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The Senator Gravel Edition 

The Defense Department 
History of Unded States 
Decisionmaking on 

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The Senator Gravel Edition 

The Pentagon Papers 

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TTze Defense Department 
ni History of United States 

' Decisionmaking on Vietnam 

\ Volume III ^ n ^^^^ 

Beacon Press Boston 

The contents of this' volume are drawn from the 
official record of the U.S? Senate Subcommittee 
on Public Buildings and Grounds. No copyright is claimed 
in the text of this official Government document. 
Library of Congress catalog card number: 75-178049 
International Standard^ook Number: 0-8070-0526-6 (hardcover) 

Beacon Press books are published under the 
auspices of the Unitarian Universalist Association 
Printed in the United States of America 


The preparation of the subcommittee record was performed under the direction 
of Senator Gravel. No material was added to or changed in the study or appended 
documents and statements. In some cases, material was illegible or missing. If this 
occurred within a direct quotation, the omission was indicated with a bracketed 
statement. If it occurred in narrative text, it was bridged by removing the entire 
sentence in which it appeared, when it was evident that no substantive material 
would be lost by this procedure; otherwise, the omission was indicated by a 
bracketed statement. All other bracketed insertions appear in the original study. 

0-8070-0527-4 (paperback) 



Introduction by U.S. Senator Mike Gravel 
Letter of Transmittal by Leslie H. Gelb 

1. Background to the Conflict, 1940-1950 

2. U.S. Involvement in the Franco-Viet Minh War, 1950-1954 

3. The Geneva Conference, May-July, 1954 

4. U.S. and France in Indochina, 1950-1956 

5. Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960 


1. The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961 

2. The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963 

3. Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964 ^ 

4. The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November 1963 

5. US-GVN Relations, 1964-1967 

6. The Advisory Build-up, 1961-1967 

7. Re-emphasis on Pacification: 1965-1967 


1. U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, November 1963-April 1965 

2. Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, February 1964-January 1965 

3. The Air War in North Vietnam: Rolling Thunder Begins, February-June, 1965 

4. American Troops Enter the Ground War, March-July, 1965 


1. The Air War in North Vietnam, 1965-1968 

2. U.S. Ground Strategy and Force Deployments, 1965-1968 

[At the end of each volume is a collection of documents, a section entitled 
"Justification of the War — Public Statements,'' and a Glossary^ 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 


Contents of Volume III 

1. U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, November 1963-April 

1965 1 

Summary and Analysis 1 

Chronology 6 

I. NSAM-273 17 

A. NSAM-273-~The Aftermath of Diem 17 

B. First Reappraisals of the Situation in South Vietnam 20 

C. First Actions on NSAM-273 and First Misgivings 28 

D. Efforts to Improve Intelligence on Progress of the War 32 

E. The Unrealized January Upturn and the Khanh Coup 35 

F. Deepening Gloom in February 39 

G. Two General Alternative Directions on Policy 42 

H. The Fact Finding Mission and NSAM-288 46 
/. NSAM-288 50 

n. NSAM-288— Tonkin Gulf 56 

A. General Character of the Period from NSAM-288 to Tonkin 
Gulf 56 

B. NSAM-288 Programs Mid-March to Mid-May 1964 59 

C. The Secretary's Visit to Saigon May 1964 67 

D. The Honolulu Conference of 30 May 1964 72 

E. Preparation for Increased Pressure on North Vietnam 11 

F. Increasing U.S. Involvement and Growing GVN Instability 19 

III. From Tonkin to NSAM-328 83 

A. Tonkin Gulf and Following Political Crises 83 

B. Policies in the Period of Turmoil 87 

C. The Period of Increasing Pressures on NVN 89 

IV. NSAM-328 97 

2. Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, February 1964- 
January 1965 106 

Summary 106 

Chronology 111 

Decisions Regarding Military Pressure Against North Vietnam 140 

I. February-June 1964 149 

A. Initiation of Covert Operations 149 

viii Contents of Volume III 

B. Planning for Larger Pressures 152 

C. Different Policy Perceptions in Planning 157 

D. Dealing with the Laotian Crisis 165 

E. The Question of Pressure Against the North 171 

II. July-October 1964 182 

A. Prologue: Actions and Programs Underway 182 

B. The Tonkin Gulf Crisis 183 

C. [Title and partial text missing] 

D. Next Courses of Action 192 
III. November 1964-January 1965 206 

A. Policy Debate in November 206 

B. Policy Decisions 236 

C. Implementing the Policy 251 

3. The Air War in North Vietnam: RoUing Thunder Begins, 
February-June, 1965 269 

Summary and Analysis 269 

Chronology 275 

I. Introduction — Pleiku Pulls the Trigger 286 

II. The Long Road to Pleiku — A Retrospective View 287 

III. DESOTO Patrol as a Reprisal Opportunity — and the Decision to 
Suspend 298 

IV. Flaming Dart I and II — The Imperceptible Transition 302 
V. "Sustained Reprisal" and Its Variants — Advocacy Shifts into 

High Gear 308 

VI. Initiation of "Rolling Thunder" — 18 Days of Maneuver and 

Delay 321 

VII. Rolling Thunder Becomes a Continuing Program 332 

VIII. Target Rationale Shifts Toward Interdiction 340 

IX. Reassessment as of April 1 and the NSAM-328 Decisions 345 

X. April 7th Initiative — the Billion Dollar Carrot 354 

XI. Honolulu, April 20th — in Search of Consensus 357 

XII. Project Mayflower — the First Bombing Pause 362 

XIII. Debate over Bombing Strategy and Effectiveness Continues 381 

4. American Troops Enter the Ground War, March-July, 1965 389 

Summary 389 

Chronology 398 

I. Marine Combat Units Go to Da Nang, March 1965 417 

A. Introduction 417 

B. The Making of the Decision All 

C. The Situation in Vietnam 423 

Contents of Volume III ix 

D. The Developing Debate on the Deployment of U.S. Forces 426 

E. Future Expectations 430 

F. Analysis 431 
II. Phase I in the Build-up of U.S. Forces, March-July 1965 433 

A. The Situation in Vietnam, Spring and Early Summer, 1965 433 

B. The Brief Tenure of the Strategy of Security, and Subsequent 
Development 444 

C. The Strategy of Experimentation: Enclave Strategy 452 

D. The U.S. Moves to Take Over the Land War: The Search and 
Destroy Strategy and the 44 Battalion Debate 462 

E. Expectations 478 

Documents 486 

Justification of the War — Public Statements 707 



Gravel Edition / Pentagon Papers / Volume III 


1. U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, 
Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 

Summary and Analysis 

During the period from the overthrow of the Diem government in November 
1963 until the Honolulu Conference in April 1965, U.S. policymakers were con- 
cerned with a continuing, central dilemma in South Vietnam. An agonizing, 
year-long internal debate took place against the double backdrop of this dilemma 
and Presidential election year politics. Although the results of this debate could 
not be clearly seen until mid- 1965, the seeds which produced those results are 
clearly visible in the official files at least a year earlier. 

The basic problem in U.S. policy was to generate programs and other means 
adequate to secure the objectives being pursued. The central dilemma lay in 
the fact that while U.S. policy objectives were stated in the most comprehen- 
sive terms the means employed were both consciously limited and purposely 
indirect. That is, the U.S. eschewed employing all of its military might — or 
even a substantial portion of it — in a battle which was viewed in Washington as 
determinative of the fate of all of Southeast Asia, probably crucial to the future 
of South Asia, and as the definitive test of U.S. ability to counteract communist 
support for "wars of national liberation." Moreover, this limited U.S. resource 
commitment to practically unlimited ends took an indirect form. U.S. efforts 
*were aimed at helping the Government of Vietnam (GVN) to win its own strug- 
gle against the insurgents. This meant that the newly established GVN had to 
somehow mobilize its human and other resources, improve its military perform- 
ance against the Viet Cong, and shift the tide of the war. 

As events in 1964 and 1965 were to demonstrate, the GVN did not succeed 
in achieving political stability. Its military forces did not stem the pattern of 
VC successes. Rather, a series of coups produced "revolving door" governments 
in Saigon. The military pattern showed, particularly by the spring of 1965, a 
precipitous decline in the fortunes of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam 
(ARVN). Yet there was no serious debate in Washington on the desirability of 
modifying U.S. objectives. These remained essentially fixed even as the means 
for their realization — limited U.S. material support for GVN — underwent one 
crisis and disappointment after another. 

There were no immediate or forceful U.S. reactions in 1964 to this continu- 
ing political instability and military frustration in South Vietnam. Declaratory 
policy raced far ahead of resource allocations and use decisions. As events con- 
tinued along an unfavorable course the U.S. pursued an ever-expanding number 
of minor, specific, programmatic measures which were inherently inadequate 
either to reverse the decline or to satisfy broad U.S. objectives. Concurrently, 
the U.S. began to make contingency plans for increasing pressures against NVN. 
It did not make similar plans for the commitment of U.S. ground forces in SVN. 

In the aftermath of President Johnson's landslide electoral victory in Novem- 
ber 1964, and in the face of persistent instability in SVN, the Administration 
finally expanded the war to include a limited, carefully controlled air campaign 
against the north. Early in 1965 it deployed Marine battalions to South Vietnam. 

2 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

By April 1965, while continuing to follow the announced policy of efforts to 
enable GVN to win its own war, the U.S. had adumbrated a policy of U.S. mili- 
tary participation which presaged a high degree of Americanization of the war 

This evolving expansion and demonstration of commitment was neither con- 
tinuous nor steady. The steps forward were warmly debated, often hesitant, 
sometimes reluctant. — But all of the steps taken were still forward toward a 
larger commitment; there were none to the rear. 


The Diem coup preceded President Kennedy's assassination by less than a 
month. Thus, a new leader took the helm in the U.S. at a natural time to re- 
evaluate U.S. policies and U.S.-GVN relations. President Johnson's first policy 
announcement on the Vietnamese war, contained in NSAM 273 (26 November 
1963), only three days after he had assumed the Presidency, was intended pri- 
marily to endorse the policies pursued by President Kennedy and to ratify pro- 
visional decisions reached in Honolulu just before the assassination. Even in its 
attempt to direct GVN's efforts toward concentration on the Delta area, NSAM 
273 reflected earlier U.S. preferences which had been thwarted or ignored by 
Diem. Now was the time, many of the top U.S. policymakers hoped, when con- 
vincing U.S. support for the new regime in Saigon might allow GVN to start 
winning its own war. 

Two developments — in addition to the VC successes which followed Diem's 
downfall — undercut this aura of optimism. First, it was discovered that the 
situation in SVN had been worse all along than reports had indicated. Examples 
of misleading reports were soon available in Washington at the highest levels. 
Second, the hoped-for political stability was never even established before it 
disintegrated in the Khanh coup in January 1964. By February MACV's year- 
end report for 1963 was available in Washington. Its gloomy statistics showed 
downward trends in almost every area. 

Included in the MACV assessment was the opinion that military effort could 
not succeed in the absence of effective political leadership. A special CIA report, 
forwarded to Secretary McNamara at about the same time made the opposite 
point: military victories were needed to nourish the popular attitudes conducive 
to political stability. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Hilsman — who would 
shortly leave office after his views were rejected — stressed the need for physical 
security in the rural areas and the adoption of counterguerrilla tactics as the pre- 
conditions to success. These interesting reversals of nominal functional prefer- 
ences indicate that there was at least a sufficiently broad awareness within U.S. 
Officialdom to permit a useful debate on U.S. actions which might deal more suc- 
cessfully with this seamless web of political-military issues. Certainly the intel- 
ligence picture was dark enough to prompt such a debate: the SNIE on short- 
term prospects in Southeast Asia warned that ". . . South Vietnam has, at best, 
an even chance of withstanding the insurgency menace during the next few weeks 
or months." 

The debate did begin, but in hobbles. The generally agreed necessity to work 
through GVN and the felt imperative to strengthen GVN left the U.S. in a 
position of weakness. It was at least as dependent on GVN leaders as were the 
latter on U.S. support. Moreover, mid- 1964 was not an auspicious time for new 
departures in policy by a President who wished to portray "moderate" alterna- 
tives to his opponent's "radical" proposals. Nor was any time prior to or im- 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 3 

mediately following the elections very appealing for the same reason. Thus, 
while the debate in high official circles was very, very different from the public 
debate it still reflected the existence of the public debate. 


The first official internal pronouncement to reflect this difficult policymaking 
milieu was NSAM 288, in March 1964. Approved verbatim from the report of 
the most recent McNamara-Taylor visit to Vietnam, it was virtually silent on 
one issue (U.S. troops) and minimal in the scale of its recommendations at the 
same time that it stated U.S. objectives in the most sweeping terms used up to 
that time. The U.S. objective was stated to be an "independent, non-communist 
South Vietnam, free to accept assistance as required to maintain its security" 
even though not necessarily a member of the Western alliance. The importance 
of this objective was underscored in a classic statement of the domino theory: 

Unless we can achieve this objective in South Vietnam, almost all of 
Southeast Asia will probably fall under Communist dominance (all of Viet- 
nam, Laos, and Cambodia), accommodate to Communism so as to remove 
effective U.S. and anti-Communist influence (Burma), or fall under the 
domination of forces not now explicitly Communist but likely then to be- 
come so (Indonesia taking over Malaysia). Thailand might hold for a 
period with our help, but would be under grave pressure. Even the Philip- 
pines would become shaky, and the threat to India to the west, Australia 
and New Zealand to the south, and Taiwan, Korea, and Japan to the north 
and east would be greatly increased. 

The present situation in SVN was painted in somber tones of declining GVN 
control and deterioration within ARVN while VC strength and NVN-supplied 
arms were on the rise. To introduce U.S. combat troops for the protection of 
Saigon under these circumstances, McNamara stated, would create "serious 
adverse psychological consequences and should not be undertaken." A U.S. move- 
ment from the advisory role to a role which would amount to command of the 
war effort was similarly rejected without discussion because of anticipated ad- 
verse psychological effects. Thus, the fear of undesirable impacts upon a weak 
GVN caused at least one major course of action to be ruled out. Although fears 
of adverse impacts in domestic U.S. politics were not mentioned it is inconceiv- 
able that such fears were not present. 

Having ruled out U.S. active leadership and the commitment of U.S. troops, 
Secretary McNamara analyzed three possible courses of action: (1) negotiations 
leading to the "neutralization" of SVN; (2) the initiation of military actions 
against NVN; and (3) measures to improve the situation in SVN. The first of 
these was incompatible with the U.S. objective stated at the beginning of the 
NSAM; the time was not propitious for adoption of the second; the third was 
recommended for adoption. Additionally, Secretary McNamara recommended 
NSAM 288 proclaimed that plans be made so that the U.S. would be in a posi- 
tion at a later date to initiate military pressures against NVN within a relatively 
brief time after any decision to do so might be made. 

Many of the steps approved in NSAM 288 were highly programmatic. It 
should be observed that they were also palliative, both in scope and degree. Of 
the twelve approved actions, two addressed possible future actions beyond the 

4 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

borders of South Vietnam. Of the remaining ten, three were declaratory in nature 
(e.g., 'To make it clear that we fully support the Khanh government and are 
opposed to any further coups"). The seven actions implying additional U.S. 
assistance (some of it advice) dealt with such matters as exchanging 25 VNAF 
aircraft for a newer model, replacing armored personnel carriers with a more 
reliable model, and trebling the fertilizer program within two years. The addi- 
tional cost of the programs was only slightly more than $60 million at the most: 
$30-$40 million to support a 50,000 man increase in RVNAF and to raise pay 
scales; $1.5 million to support an enlarged civil administrative cadre; and a one 
time cost of $20 million for additional and replacement military equipment. 

It is clear with the advantage of hindsight that these steps were grossly inade- 
quate to the magnitude of the tasks at hand — particularly if the broad U.S. ob- 
jectives stated in the NSAM were to be realized. But such hindsight misses the 
policymakers' dilemma and the probable process by which the approved actions 
were decided upon. President Johnson had neither a congressional nor a popular 
mandate to Americanize the war or to expand it dramatically by "going north." 
U.S. hopes were pinned on assisting in the development of a GVN strong enough 
to win its own war. Overt U.S. leadership might undercut the development of 
such a government in Saigon. The course of policy adopted was not the product 
of an attempt to select the "best" alternative by means of examining expected 
benefits; it resulted from a determination of the "least bad" alternative through 
an examination of risks and disadvantages. It reflected what was politically fea- 
sible rather than what was desirable in relation to stated objectives. The prac- 
tical effect of this understandable — perhaps inescapable and inevitable — way of 
deciding upon U.S. policy was to place almost complete responsibility in the 
hands of the GVN for the attainment of U.S. objectives — it being assumed that 
GVN's objectives were compatible with ours. 

Midway through 1964 President Johnson changed the entire top level of U.S. 
leadership in Saigon. General Maxwell D. Taylor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs 
of Staff, retired from active military duty (for the second time) to become the 
U.S. Ambassador. An experienced and highly regarded career diplomat, U. 
Alexis Johnson, was appointed deputy to Taylor. General William C. Westmore- 
land stepped up from deputy to commander of U.S. military forces in Vietnam. 
The new "first team" was not without knowledge about Vietnam but it ines- 
capably lacked the close personal knowledge of leading GVN figures which only 
time and close association can develop. It set about attempting to help the Khanh 
government to help itself. 

General Khanh, in the event, proved unable to marshal SVN's resources and 
to establish his regime in a position of authority adequate either to stem or to 
turn the VC tide. Khanh's failure was, however, neither precipitous nor easily 
perceivable at the time. As the U.S. entered and passed through a Presidential 
campaign in which the proper policy to pursue in Vietnam was a major issue, 
it sometimes appeared that the GVN was making headway and sometimes ap- 
peared that it was not. 

U.S. policy remained virtually unchanged during this period although signifi- 
cant planning steps were accomplished to permit the U.S. to exercise military 
pressures against NVN should it appear desirable (and politically feasible) to do 
so. Thanks to such planning, the Tonkin Gulf incidents of 2-4 August 1964 
were answered by "tit-for-tat" reprisal raids with considerable dispatch. The cost 
was minimal in terms of world opinion and communist reaction. Moreover, 
President Johnson used the Tonkin Gulf incidents as the springboard to a broad 
endorsement by the Congress of his leadership and relative freedom of action. 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963- Apr. 1965 5 

When this was followed in November by what can only be described as a smash- 
ing victory at the polls, the President's hands were not completely untied but the 
bonds were figuratively loosened. His feasible options increased. 


Immediately following his election, the President initiated an intense, month- 
long policy review. An executive branch consensus developed for a two phase 
expansion of the war. Phase I was limited to intensification of air strikes in Laos 
and to covert actions in NVN. Phase II would extend the war to a sustained, 
escalating air campaign against North Vietnamese targets. The President ap- 
proved Phase I for implementation in December 1964 but approved Phase II 
only "in principle." 

The effect of this decision was to increase the expectation that the air cam- 
paign against NVN would be undertaken if the proper time arose. What condi- 
tions were proper was the subject of considerable disagreement and confusion. 
Tactically, the U.S. desired to respond to North Vietnamese acts rather than to 
appear to initiate a wider war. But the strategic purposes of bombing in NVN 
were in dispute. The initiation of an air campaign was deferred early in 1964 as 
a prod to GVN reform. By 1965 such initiation was argued for as a support 
for GVN morale. Some adherents claimed that bombing in NVN could destroy 
the DRV's will to support the war in South Vietnam. Others expected it to raise 
the price of North Vietnam's effort and to demonstrate U.S. commitment but not 
to be decisive in and of itself. The only indisputable facts seem to be that the 
long planning and debate over expanding the air war, the claimed benefits (al- 
though disputed), and the relatively low cost and risk of an air campaign as com- 
pared to the commitment of U.S. ground forces combined to indicate that the 
bombing of NVN would be the next step taken if nothing else worked. 

Nothing else was, in fact, working. General Khanh's government was reor- 
ganized in November 1964 to give it the appearance of civilian leadership. Khanh 
finally fell in mid-February 1965 and was replaced by the Quat regime. Earlier 
that month the insurgents had attacked the U.S. base at Pleiku, killing eight 
Americans. Similar attacks late in 1964 had brought about recommendations 
for reprisal attacks. These had been disapproved because of timing. On this oc- 
casion, however, the President approved the FLAMING DART retaliatory meas- 

Presidential assistant McGeorge Bundy was in SVN when the Viet Cong at- 
tacked the U.S. facilities in Pleiku. He recommended to the President that, in 
addition to retaliatory measures, the U.S. initiate phase II of the military meas- 
ures against NVN. The fall of the Khanh regime a week later resurrected the worst 
U.S. fears of GVN political instability. The decision to bomb north was made, 
announced on 28 February, and strikes initiated on 2 March. A week later, 
after a request from Generals Taylor and Westmoreland which was debated 
little if at all, two battalion landing teams of Marines went ashore at DaNang 
to assume responsibility for security of the air base there. U.S. ground combat 
units were in an active theater on the mainland of Asia for the first time since 
the Korean War. This may not have been the Rubicon of the Johnson administra- 
tion's Vietnam policy but it was a departure of immeasurable significance. The 
question was no longer one of whether U.S. units should be deployed to SVN; 
rather, it was one of how many units should be deployed and for what strategic 

The Army Chief of Staff, General Harold K. Johnson, went to Saigon in mid- 

6 Gravel Edition/2 he Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

March and recommended that bombing restrictions be lifted and that a U.S. 
division be deployed to SVN for active combat. General Taylor strongly opposed 
an active combat — as distinct from base security — role for U.S. ground forces. 
But the President decided on 1 April to expand the bombing, to add an air wing 
in SVN, and to send two more Marine battalions ashore. These decisions were 
announced internally on 6 April in NSAM 328. 

General Taylor continued to voice strong opposition to a ground combat role 
for U.S. forces but his voice was drowned out by two developments. First, the 
air campaign against NVN (ROLLING THUNDER) did not appear to be 
shaking the DRV's determination. Second, ARVN experienced a series of dis- 
astrous defeats in the spring of 1965 which convinced a number of observers 
that a political-military collapse within GVN was imminent. 

As the debate in Washington on next steps revealed, something closely akin 
to the broad objectives stated over a year earlier in NSAM 288 represented a 
consensus among U.S. policymakers as a statement of proper U.S. aims. The 
domestic political situation had changed materially since early 1964. President 
Johnson was now armed with both a popular mandate and broad Congressional 
authorization (the extent of which would be challenged later, but not in 1965). 
Palliative measures had not been adequate to the task although they had con- 
tinued and multiplied throughout the period. As General Taylor wryly remarked 
to McGeorge Bundy in a back channel message quoted in the following paper, 
the U.S. Mission in Saigon was charged with implementing a 21 -point military 
program, a 41 -point non-military program, a 16-point USIS program, and a 12- 
point CIA program . . as if we can win here somehow on a point score." 

As fears rose in Washington it must have seemed that everything had been 
tried except one course — active U.S. participation in the ground battle in SVN. 
Palliative measures had failed. ROLLING THUNDER offered little hope for a 
quick decision in view of the rapid deterioration of ARVN. The psychological 
barrier against the presence of U.S. combat units had been breached. If the 
revalidated U.S. objectives were to be achieved it was necessary for the U.S. to 
make quickly some radical departures. It was politically feasible to commit U.S. 
ground forces and it seemed desirable to do so. 

Secretary McNamara met in Honolulu on 20 April with the principal U.S. 
leaders from Saigon and agreed to recommend an enclave strategy requiring a 
quantum increase above the four Marine battalions. An account of the rapidity 
with which this strategy was overtaken by an offensively oriented concept is 
described in Chapter 4. The present volume describes the situational changes, 
the arguments, and the frustrations as the U.S. attempted for over a year to move 
toward the realization of ambitious objectives by the indirect use of very limited 
resources and in the shadow of a Presidential election campaign. 

End of Summary and Analysis 

20 Nov 1963 Honolulu Conference 

Secretaries McNamara and Rusk and their party meet with the 
entire US country team and review the South Vietnamese situa- 
tion after the Diem coup. 

22 Nov 1963 Kennedy Assassination 

President Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas. Lodge confers with the 
new President, Johnson, in Washington, during the next few days. 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 7 

26 Nov 1963 N SAM 273 

Drawing on the Honolulu Conference and Lodge's conversations 
with the President, NSAM 273 established US support for the 
new Minh government and emphasized that the level of effort, 
economic and military, would be maintained at least as high as to 
Diem. All US and GVN efforts were to be concentrated on the 
Delta where the VC danger was greatest. But the war remained 
basically a South Vietnamese affair to win or lose. 

6 Dec 1963 Report on Long An Province 

A report by a USOM provincial representative on Long An Prov- 
ince, adjacent to Saigon, describes the near complete disintegra- 
tion of the strategic hamlet program. The basic problem is the 
inability or unwillingness of the ARVN to provide timely support 
when villages are under attack. Hamlets are being overrun by the 
VC on an almost daily basis. Ambassador Lodge forwards the 
report to Washington. 

17 Dec 1963 NSC Meetin g 

After hearing a briefing by General Krulak that falls short of giv- 
ing an adequate explanation for the Long An report, the President 
decides to send McNamara on another fact-finding trip. 

18-20 Dec SecDef Trip to Vietnam 

1963 During this quick visit to South Vietnam, McNamara ordered 

certain immediate actions to be taken by the US Mission to im- 
prove the situation in the 13 critical provinces. He returns directly 
to Washington to report to the President. 

21 Dec 1963 McNamara Report to the President 

McNamara's report substantiates the existence of significant de- 
terioration in the war since the preceding summer. He recom- 
mends strengthened ARVN formations in the key provinces, in- 
creased US military and civilian staffs, the creation of a new paci- 
fication plan, and better coordination between Lodge and Harkins. 
His report is especially pessimistic about the situation in the Delta. 

7 Jan 1964 McCone Proposes Covert Reporting 

The serious failure of the reporting system to indicate the critical 
state of deterioration of the war prompts McCone to recommend 
to McNamara a special TDY covert CIA check on the in-country 
reporting system to make recommendations for improving it. 

16 Jan 1964 McNamara Accepts Revised McCone Proposal 

McNamara accepts a revised form of McCone's proposal, specifi- 
cally ruling out any IG-like aspects to the study. 

28 Jan 1964 Khanh Warns US Aide of Pro-Neutralist Coup 

General Khanh, I Corps Commander, warns his US advisor, 
Colonel Wilson that pro-neutralist members of the MRC — Xuan, 
Don, and Kim — are plotting a coup. 

29 Jan 1964 

Khanh Warns Lodge 

Khanh repeats to Lodge the warning that pro-neutralist elements 

8 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

are planning a coup. Lodge recommends an intervention with 
Paris to get DeGaulle to restrict his activity in Saigon. Khanh's 
efforts are really a screen for his own planned coup. 

30 Jan 1964 Khanh Coup 

Early in the morning, Khanh acts to take over control of the gov- 
ernment in a bloodless internal coup that removes the civilian gov- 
ernment and puts him in power. 

2 Feb 1964 MACV Personal Assessment of 4th Qtr CY 1963 

The Diem coup and the subsequent political instability in the fall 
of 1963 are given by MACV as the main reasons for the rise in 
VC activity and the decline in GVN control of the country. The 
tempo of GVN operations was good but the effectiveness low. 
Military failures were largely attributed to political problems. 

10 Feb 1964 CAS Group's Preliminary Report 

The preliminary report of the special CAS group cross-checking 
the reporting system confirms the deterioration of the strategic 
hamlet program. It documents the decline in rural security and 
the increase in VC attacks. 

12 Feb 1964 SN IE 50-64 

This intelligence community evaluation of the short-term prospects 
for Vietnam confirms the pessimism now felt in all quarters. The 
political instability is the hard core problem. 

18 Feb 1964 Final CAS Group Report 

The final CAS group report confirms the black picture of its initial 
estimate in greater detail and further confirms the previous fail- 
ings of the reporting system. 

J CSM 136-64 

In addition to a long list of recommendations for GVN action, the 
ICS propose to SecDef major US escalatory steps including bomb- 
ing of the North. 

21 Feb 1964 MACV Comment on CAS Group Findings 

General Harkins takes issue not with the specific factual reporting 
of the CAS Group, but with their broader conclusions about the 
direction the war is going, and the respective effectiveness of the 
VC and GVN. 

2 Mar 1 964 JCSM-1 74-64 

The JCS outline their proposal for punitive action against the DRV 
to halt Northern support for the VC insurgency. Bombing is spe- 
cifically called for. 

8 Mar 1 964 SecDef and CJCS Begin Five-Day Trip to SVN 

The President sends Secretary McNamara and General Taylor on 
another fact-finding trip to prepare for a major re-evaluation of the 
war and US involvement. While there, a set of recommendations 
to the President is decided upon. 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963- Apr. 1965 9 

12 Mar 1964 McN amara-Taylor see Khanh 

Prior to their departure, McNamara and Taylor present their 
principal conclusions to General Khanh who is responsive to their 
suggestions and, in particular, declares his readiness to move 
promptly on a national mobilization and increasing ARVN and 
Civil Guard. 

14 Mar 1964 Hilsman sends Final Memos to SecState 

Having resigned over policy disagreement, Hilsman sends Rusk 
parting memos on SEA and SVN. He describes two principles 
basic to success in guerrilla warfare: (1) the oil blot approach to 
progressive rural security; and (2) the avoidance of large-scale 
operations. He further opposes redirecting the war effort against 
the North. Political stability is absolutely essential to eventual 


The JCS, in commenting on McNamara's proposed recommenda- 
tions to the President, reiterate their views of 2 March that a pro- 
gram of actions against the North is required to effectively strike 
at the sources of the insurgency. The overall military recommenda- 
tions proposed by McNamara are inadequate, they feel. 

16 Mar 1964 SecDef Recommendations to the President 

Largely ignoring the JCS reclama, McNamara reports on the con- 
clusions of his trip to Vietnam and recommends the full civilian 
and military mobilization to which General Khanh has committed 
himself. This is to be accompanied by an extensive set of internal 
reforms and organizational improvements. Some increases in US 
personnel are recommended along with increased materiel support 
for the GVN. 

17 Mar 1964 NSAM 288 

The President accepts McNamara's full report and has it adopted 
as NSAM 288 to guide national policy. The importance of South 
Vietnam to US policy and security is underlined and the extent of 
the US commitment to it increased. While significant increases in 
actual US participation in the war are rejected as not warranted for 
the moment, the JCS are authorized to begin planning studies for 
striking at the sources of insurgency in the DRV. 

1 Apr 1 964 Embassy Saigon Msg 1 880 

Lodge reports per State request that Khanh's proposed mobiliza- 
tion measures call for both civilian and military build-ups. 

4 Apr 1964 Khanh Announces Mobilization 

Khanh announces that all able-bodied males aged 20 to 45 will be 
subject to national public service, etiher military or civilian. 

W. P. Bundy Letter to Lodge 

In a letter to Lodge, Bundy asks him to comment on a scenario 
for mobilizing domestic US political support for action against the 

1 5 Apr 1964 Lodge reports on Mobilization 

Lodge reports that Khanh's 4 April announcement was only the 
precursor of the legal decrees the essence of which he described. 

10 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/ Vol. Ill 
15-20 Apr General Wheeler, CofS/USA, Visits Vietnam 

1964 The Army Chief of Staff, General Earl Wheeler visits Vietnam to 

make a survey and represent the SecDef during the visit of Secre- 
tary Rusk. On 16 April, he meets with Khanh who first mentions 
his view that the war will eventually have to be taken to the North. 

17-20 Apr Rusk Visits Saigon 

1964 Secretary Rusk and party visit Saigon. On 18 April, Rusk sees 

Khanh who again mentions the eventual necessity of carrying the 
fight to the North. Rusk replies that such a significant escalation 
of the war would require much thought and preparation. At the 
19 April meeting with the Country Team, much of the discussion 
is devoted to the problem of pressures against the North. 

25 Apr 1964 President Names General Westmoreland to Succeed General 

General William Westmoreland is named to succeed General 
Harkins in the summer. 

29 Apr 1964 

30 Apr 1964 

2 May 1964 
4 May 1964 

6 May 1964 

7 May 1964 

12-14 May 

JCS Msg 6073 to MACV 

The JCS, worried at the GVN delay, ask MACV to submit the 
force plan for 1964 by 7 May. 

Lodge, Brent and Westmoreland See Khanh 

In a showdown with Khanh, Lodge, Brent and Westmoreland 
state that the fundamental problem is lack of administrative sup- 
port for the provincial war against the VC, particularly the inade- 
quacy of the piastre support for the pacification program. Khanh 
promises more effort. 

Embassy Saigon Msg 1889 EXDIS for the President 
Lodge informs the President that Khanh has agreed to US advi- 
sors in the pacified areas if we are willing to accept casualties. 
Lodge recommends one advisor for each corps area and one for 
Khanh, all reporting to Lodge. 

Lodge Reports on Delay in Mobilization 

Lodge reports that the draft mobilization decrees have still not 
been signed or promulgated. 

Embassy Saigon Msg 2112 

Having asked to see Lodge, Khanh asks him whether he. Lodge, 
thinks the country should be put on a war footing. Khanh wants 
to carry the war to the North and sees this as necessary pre- 

NSC Meeting 

The NSC confirms Rusk's caution to Khanh on any moves against 
the North. The President asks McNamara to make a fact-finder to 

MACV, US /GVN 1964 Force Level Agreement 

MACV informs the JCS that agreement has been reached with 

the GVN on the level of forces to be reached by year's end. 

McNamara-Taylor Mission 

McNamara-Taylor visit SVN. They are briefed on 12-13 April by 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 11 

the Mission. On 14 April they see Khanh who again talks of go- 
ing North. McNamara demurs, but insists on more political sta- 
bility and program effectiveness. 

30 May 1964 Honolulu Conference 

Rusk, McNamara, McCone and aides meet in Honolulu with the 
Country Team. A full dress discussion of pressures takes place, 
but no decisions or recommendations are approved. Rather, more 
emphasis on the critical provinces is approved, along with an ex- 
panded advisory effort. 

5 Jun 1964 Department of State Msg 2184 

Lodge is informed of the President's approval of the expanded 
effort in the critical provinces. 

75 Jun 1964 W. P. Bundy memo to SecState and SecDef 

Attached to a Bundy memo for consideration at a meeting later 
the same day, are six annexes each dealing with a different aspect 
of the problem of getting a Congressional resolution of support 
for the current US Southeast Asian policy. One of the important 
themes is that an act of irreversible US commitment might provide 
the necessary psychological support to get real reform and effec- 
tiveness from the GVN. 

23 Jun 1964 President Announces JCS Chairman Taylor as New Ambassador 

President Johnson announces the appointment of JCS Chairman, 
Maxwell Taylor, to succeed Lodge, who is returning to engage in 
Republican Presidential politics. 

30 Jun 1964 Taylor Succeeds Lodge 

Lodge leaves Saigon and Taylor takes over as US Ambassador 
with U. Alexis Johnson as Deputy. 

7 Jul 1964 Taylor Forms Mission Council 

In an effort to streamline the Embassy and increase his policy con- 
trol, Taylor forms the Mission Council at the Country Team level. 

8 Jul 1964 Taylor Calls on Khanh 

Taylor calls on Khanh who expresses satisfaction with the new 
personnel, approves the Mission Council idea and offers to create 
a counter part organization. 

10 Jul 1964 Department of State Msg 108 

The President asks Taylor to submit regular month-end progress 
reports on all aspects of the program. 

15 Jul 1964 Taylor reports increased VC strength, Embassy Saigon Msgs 107 
and 108 

Taylor raises the estimate of Viet Cong strength from the previous 
total of 28,000 to 34,000. This does not represent a sudden in- 
crease, but rather intelligence confirmation of long suspected units. 

17 Jul 1964 USOM Meets With G VN NSC 

As he had promised, Khanh creates a coordinating group within 
the GVN to deal with the new Mission Council and calls it the 

12 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

Khanh Makes Public Reference to "Going North" 
In a public speech, Khanh refers to the "March to the North." In 
a separate statement to the press, General Ky also refers to the 
"march North." 

Taylor Meets with Khanh and NSC 

In a meeting with Khanh and the NSC, Taylor is told by Khanh 
that the move against the North is indispensable to the success of 
the counterinsurgency campaign in the South. 

Taylor and Khanh discuss Coups 

In a discussion of coup rumors, Khanh complains that it is US sup- 
port of Minh that is behind all the trouble, Taylor reiterates US 
support for Khanh. 

USS Maddox Attacked in Tonkin Gulf 

The destroyer USS Maddox is attacked in the Tonkin Gulf by 
DRV patrol craft while on a DE SOTO patrol off the DRV coast. 
Several patrol boats sunk. 

Maddox and C. Turner loy Attacked 

In a repetition of the 2 August incident, the Maddox and the 
C. Turner Joy are attacked. After strenuous efforts to confirm the 
attacks, the President authorizes reprisal air strikes against the 

US Reprisals 

US aircraft attack several DRV patrol boat bases, destroying ships 
and facilities. 

Tonkin Gulf Resolutions 

At the time of the attacks, the President briefed leaders of Con- 
gress, and had a resolution of support for US policy introduced. 
It is passed with near-unanimity by both Houses. 

Khanh Announces State of Emergency 

Khanh announces a state of emergency that gives him near-dicta- 
torial powers. 

10 Aug 1964 Taylor's first Monthly Report 

In his first monthly report to the President, Taylor gives a gloomy 
view of the political situation and of Khanh's capacities for ef- 
fectively pursuing the war. He is equally pessimistic about other 
aspects of the situation. 

11 Aug 1964 President Signs Tonkin Resolution 

The President signs the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and pledges full 
support for the GVN. 

12 Aug 1964 Taylor and Khanh Meet 

Khanh discusses with Taylor his plan to draw up a new constitution 
enhancing his own powers. Taylor tries to discourage him. 

14 Aug 1964 Khanh shows Taylor Draft Charter 

At GVN NSC meeting, Khanh shows Taylor his proposed draft 
Constitution. Taylor dislikes its blatant ratification of Khanh as 

19 Jul 1964 

23 Jul 1964 

24 Jul 1964 
2 Aug 1964 

4 Aug 1964 

5 Aug 1964 
7 Aug 1964 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 13 

16 Aug 1964 Khanh Names President 

With the promulgation of the new constitution, Khanh is elected 
President by the MRC. 

27 Aug 1964 MRC Disbands 

After ten days of political turmoil and demonstrations, Khanh 
withdraws the constitution, the MRC names Khanh, Minh and 
Khiem to rule provisionally and disbands itself. 

4 Sep 1964 Khanh Resumes Premiership 

Khanh returns from Dalat and ends the crisis by resuming the 

6 Sep 1964 Embassy Saigon Msg 768 

Taylor cables an assessment that . . at best the emerging gov- 
ernmental structure might be capable of maintaining a holding 
operation against the Viet Cong." 

7 Sep 1964 Washington Conference 

Taylor meets with the President and the NSC Principals and de- 
cisions are made to resume DE SOTO operations, resume 34A 
operations, and prepare for further tit-for-tat reprisals. 

10 Sep 1964 NSAM314 

The 7 September decisions are promulgated. 

13 Sep 1964 Abortive Phat Coup 

General Phat launches a coup but it is defeated by forces loyal to 
Khanh. This establishes the power of younger officers such as Ky 
and Thi. 

18 Sep 1964 DE SOTO Patrol Attacked 

The first resumed DE SOTO patrol comes under apparent attack. 
To avoid future incidents, the President suspends the patrols. 

26 Sep 1964 Vietnam High National Council 

The MRC names a High National Council of distinguished citizens 
to prepare a constitution. 

20 Oct 1964 New Constitution Revealed 

The MRC presents the new constitution drafted by the High Na- 
tional Council. A prompt return to civilian government is promised. 

1 Nov 1964 Huong Names Premier 

Tran Van Huong, a civilian, is named Premier after the appoint- 
ment of Phan Khac Suu as Chief of State, thus returning the gov- 
ernment to civilian control. 

1 Nov 1964 VC Attack Bien Hoa Airport 

The VC launch a mortar attack on the Bien Hoa airfield that kills 
Americans and damages aircraft. The military recommend a re- 
prisal against the North; the President refuses. 

3 Nov 1964 Johnson re-elected 

Lyndon Johnson is re-elected President with a crushing majority. 

Task Force Begins Policy Review 

At the President's request, W. P. Bundy heads an inter-agency Task 

14 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. HI 

Force for an in-depth review of US Vietnam policy and options. 
The work goes on throughout the month. 

26 Nov 1964 Bundy Group Submits Three Options 

The Bundy Task Force submits its draft conclusions to the Princi- 
pals. They propose three alternative courses of action: (1) con- 
tinuation of current policy with no escalation and a resistance to 
negotiations; (2) a significant set of pressures against the North 
accompanied by vigorous efforts to start negotiations; (3) a modest 
campaign against the North with resistance to negotiations. 

30 Nov 1964 NSC Principals Modify Bundy Proposals 

The NSC Principals reject the pure form of any of the recom- 
mendations and instead substitute a two-phase recommendation 
for the President: the first phase is a slight intensification of cur- 
rent covert activities against the North and in Laos, the second 
after 30 days would be a moderate campaign of air strikes against 
the DRV. 

1 Dec 1964 President Meets with NSC and Taylor 

The President, in a meeting with the NSC Principals, and Taylor, 
who returned on 23 November, hears the latter's report on the 
grave conditions in SVN, then approves Phase I of the proposal. 
He gives tentative approval to Phase II but makes it contingent 
on improvement by the GVN. 

3 Dec 1964 President Confers with Taylor 

In a last meeting with Taylor, the President stresses the need to 
get action from the GVN before Phase II. 

8 Dec 1964 Taylor Sees Huong 

Taylor presents the President's requirements to Premier Huong 
who promises to get new action on programs. 

14 Dec 1964 BARREL ROLL Begins 

BARREL ROLL armed reconnaissance in Laos begins as called 
for in Phase I of the program approved 1 December. 

20 Dec 1964 Military Stage Purge 

The struggle within the MRC takes the form of a purge by the 
younger officers Ky and Thi. They are seeking to curb the power 
of the Huong Government. 

21 Dec 1964 Khanh Declares Support for Purge 

Khanh declares his support of the purge and opposes the US, Tay- 
lor in particular. He states he will not "carry out the policy of any 
foreign country." Rumors that Taylor will be declared personna 
non grata circulate. 

24 Dec 1 964 US Billet in Saigon Bombed 

The VC bomb a US billet in Saigon on Christmas Eve, killing 
several Americans. The President disapproves military recom- 
mendations for a reprisal against the North. 

31 Dec 1964 Embassy Saigon Msg 2010 

Taylor recommends going ahead with the Phase II air campaign 
against the North in spite of the political instability and confusion 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 15 

in the South. He now argues that the strikes may help stabiHze the 

6 Jan 1965 Bundy Memo to SecState 

In a memo to the Secretary of State, Wm Bundy urges that we con- 
sider some additional actions short of Phase II of the December 
plan in spite of the chaos is Saigon. It is the only possible course 
to save the situation. 

8 Jan 1965 ROK Troops go to SVN 

South Korea sends 2,000 military advisors to South Vietnam. 

27 Jan 1965 McNaughton Memo to SecDef 

In a memo to SecDef, McNaughton underscores the importance of 
SEA for the US and then suggests that we may have to adopt 
Phase II as the only way to save the current situation. 

27 Jan 1965 Khanh Ousts Huong Government 

Khanh and the younger officers oust the civilian Huong govern- 
ment. Khanh nominates General Oanh to head an interim regime 
the next day. 

7 Feb 1 965 VC Mortar A ttack Pleiku 

The VC launch a mortar attack on a US billet in Pleiku and an 
associated helicopter field. Many Americans are killed and helos 
damaged. The President, with the unanimous recommendation of 
his advisors, authorizes a reprisal. 


The reprisal strikes involve both US and VNAF planes. A second 
mission is flown the following day. 

McGeorge Bundy Memo to the President 

In an influential memo to the President after a fact-finding trip 
to Vietnam, Bundy concludes that the situation can only be righted 
by beginning sustained and escalating air attacks on the North 
a la Phase II. He had telephoned his concurrence in the FLAMING 
DART reprisal to the President from Vietnam. 

8 Feb 1 965 McNamara Memo to JCS 

In a memo to the JCS, McNamara requests the development of a 
limited bombing program against the North. The JCS later submit 
the "Eight-week Program." 

10 Feb 1965 VC Attack Qui Nhon 

Thumbing their noses at the US reprisal, the VC attack a US billet 
in Qui Nhon and kill 23. 

11 Feb 1965 FLA MING DART II 

The second reprisal strikes authorized by the President attack tar- 
gets in the North. 

18 Feb 1965 Coup Fails, but Khanh Ousted 

A coup against the new Premier, Quat, fails when the Armed 
Forces Council intervenes. They seize the opportunity to remove 
Khanh and he is forced to leave the country several days later. 

16 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 


The President approves the first strikes for the ROLLING 
THUNDER sustained, escalating air campaign against the DRV. 


After being once postponed, the first ROLLING THUNDER 
strikes take place. 

Marines to DaNang 

The President decides to send two US Marine Battalion Landing 
Teams to DaNang to take up the base security function. They 
arrive two days later. 

General H. K. Johnson Report 

After a trip to Vietnam, the Army Chief of Staff, General John- 
son, recommends a 21 -point program to the President. Included 
are increased attacks on the North and removal of restrictions on 
these missions. 

29 Mar 1 965 US Embassy Bombed 

Just as Ambassador Taylor is leaving for a policy conference in 
Washington, the US Embassy in Saigon is bombed by VC terrorists 
with loss of life and extensive property damage. 

31 Mar 1965 State Memo to the President 

In a 41 -point non-military recommendation to the President, State 
elaborates on a Taylor proposal. 

1 Apr 1965 President Meets With NSC and Taylor 

At a meeting with Taylor and the NSC Principals, the President 
approves the 41 -point non-military proposal, plus General John- 
son's 21 -point proposal. In addition, he decides to send two more 
Marine battalions and an air wing to Vietnam and to authorize 
an active combat role for these forces. He also authorizes 18,000- 
20,000 more support forces. 

2 Apr 1965 McCone Dissents from 1 Apr Decisions 

In a memo to SecState, SecDef, and Ambassador Taylor, CIA 
Director John McCone takes exception to the decision to give US 
troops a ground role. It is not justified unless we take radically 
stronger measures against North Vietnam. 

6 Apr 1965 N SAM 288 

NSAM 288 promulgates the decisions of the 1 April meeting. 

7 Apr 1 965 President's Johns Hopkins Speech 

The President, in a speech at John Hopkins, offers unconditional 
talks with the DRV plus help in rebuilding after the war if they 
will cease aggression. 

8 Apr 1965 Pham Van Dong Announces 4 Points 

DRV Foreign Minister, Pham Van Dong, announces his four 
points for a Vietnam settlement. They are a defiant, unyielding 
repudiation of Johnson's offer. 

15 Apr 1965 State Department Msg 2332 

McGeorge Bundy informs Taylor that further increments of troops 
are being considered, plus use of US Army civil affairs personnel. 

24 Feb 1965 
2 Mar 1965 
6 Mar 1965 

14 Mar 1965 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 17 

17 Apr 1 965 Embassy Saigon Msg 3419 

Taylor takes angry exception to the proposal to increase troops 
and to introduce military civil affairs personnel into the provinces. 
He did not think he had agreed on 1 April to a land war in Asia. 

20 Apr 1965 Honolulu Conference 

In a hastily called conference, McNamara informs Taylor in detail 
of the new policy directions and "brings him along." An attempt 
is made to mollify him. 

I. NSAM-273 


NSAM 273 of 26 November 1963 came just four days after the assassination 
of President Kennedy and less than a month after the assassination of the Ngo 
brothers and their replacement by the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC). 
NSAM 273 was an interim, don't rock-the-boat document. Its central significance 
was that although the two assassinations had changed many things, U.S. policy 
proposed to remain substantially the same. In retrospect, it is unmistakably clear, 
but it was certainly not unmistakably clear at that time, that this was a period 
of crucial and accelerated change in the situation in South Vietnam. NSAM 273 
reflected the general judgment of the situation in Vietnam that had gained official 
acceptance during the previous period, most recently and notably during the 
visit of Secretary McNamara and General Taylor to Vietnam in late September 
of that year. 

This generally sanguine appraisal had been the basis for the recommendation 
in that report to establish a program to train Vietnamese to carry out, by the 
end of 1965, the essential functions then performed by U.S. military personnel 
— by which time "it should be possible to withdraw the bulk of U.S. personnel." 
As an immediate gesture in this direction, the report recommended that "the 
Defense Department should announce in the very near future, presently pre- 
pared plans to withdraw one thousand U.S. military personnel by the end of 
1963." The latter recommendation was acted upon the same day (2 October 
1963) by making it part of a White House statement of U.S. Policy on Vietnam. 
This White House statement included the following pronuncement. 

Secretary McNamara and General Taylor reported their judgment that 
the major part of the U.S. military task can be completed by the end of 
1965, although there may be a continuing requirement for a limited number 
of U.S. training personnel. They reported that by the end of this year the 
U.S. program for training Vietnamese should have progressed to the point 
where one thousand U.S. personnel assigned to South Vietnam can be 

The visit of the Secretart^ of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to 
Saigon at the end of September was followed by the report to the President in 
early October and agreements reached with the President at the White House 
early in October following the Diem coup, a special meeting on Vietnam was 
held at CINCPAC headquarters on 20 November. Although this Honolulu meet- 
ing was marked by some concern over the administrative dislocation that had 
resulted from the coup of three weeks before, the tone remained one of optimism 

18 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

along the lines of the October 2 report to the President. Ambassador Lodge took 
note of what he called the "political fragility" of the new regime, but he was on 
the whole optimistic, and even mentioned that the statement on U.S. military 
withdrawal was having a continued "tonic" effect on the Republic of Vietnam 
(RVN). General Harkins in his report mentioned a sharp increase in Viet Cong 
(VC) incidents right after the coup, but added that these had dropped to normal 
within a week, and that there had, moreover, been compensating events such as 
additional Montagnards coming out of the hills to get government protection. 
All in all there was some uneasiness, perhaps, about unknown effects of the coup, 
but nothing was said to suggest that any serious departure was contemplated from 
the generally optimistic official outlook of late September and early October. And 
so, with reference to the statements of October 2, NSAM 273 repeated: 

The objectives of the United States with respect to the withdrawal of U.S. 
military personnel remain as stated in the White House statement of Oc- 
tober 2, 1963. 

Before examining further the background of NSAM 273 — especially the ap- 
praisals of the Vietnam situation that it reflected — it is well to review some of 
the main provisions of that policy statement of 26 November 1963. 

NSAM 273 was not comprehensive, as the McNamara-Taylor report of 2 
October (discussed below) had been, nor as NSAM 288 was later to be. Mainly 
it served to indicate continuance by the new President of policies already agreed 
upon, and to demonstrate full support by the United States of the new govern- 
ment of Vietnam (GVN). Both military and economic programs, it was empha- 
sized, should be maintained at levels as high as those in the time of the Diem 
regime. In addition, there was an unusual Presidential exhortation — reflecting 
the internal U.S. dispute over policy concerning Diem and Nhu that had made 
embarrassing headlines in October — that: 

The President expects that all senior officers of the government will move 
energetically to insure the full unity of support for established U.S. policy 
in South Vietnam. Both in Washington and in the field, it is essential that 
the government be unified. It is of particular importance that express or 
implied criticism of officers of other branches be assiduously avoided in all 
contacts with the Vietnamese government and with the press. 

NSAM 273 was specifically programatic so far as SVN was concerned only 
in directing priority of effort to the Delta. 

(5) We should concentrate our efforts, and insofar as possible we should 
persuade the government of South Vietnam to concentrate its effort, on 
the critical situation in the Mekong Delta. This concentration should 
include not only military but political, economic, social, educational and 
informational effort. We should seek to turn the tide not only of battle 
but of belief, and we should seek to increase not only the controlled ham- 
lets but the productivity of this area, especially where the proceeds can 
be held for the advantage of anti-Communist forces. 

In general, the policies expressed by NSAM 273 were responsive to the older 
philosophy of our intervention there, which was that the central function of the 
U.S. effort was to help the South Vietnamese to help themselves because only if 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 19 

they did the major job themselves could that job in reality be done at all. We 
would assist stabilization of the new regime and head it in that direction. 

(3) It is a major interest of the United States government that the present 
provisional government of South Vietnam should be assisted in con- 
solidating itself in holding and developing increased public support. 

Definition of the central task in South Vietnam as that of winning the hearts 
and minds of the people and of gaining for the GVN the support of the people 
had been the central consideration in the late summer and early fall of what to 
do about Diem and Nhu. The argument concerning the Diem government cen- 
tered on the concept that the struggle in South Vietnam could not be won with- 
out the support of the South Vietnamese people and that under the Diem regime 
— especially because of the growing power and dominance of Nhu — the essential 
popular base was beyond reach. In the 2 October report to the President as well 
as in the discussions later at Honolulu on 20 November this theme was prominent. 
The U.S. could not win the struggle, only the Vietnamese could do that. For 
instance, in the report to the President of 2 October, there were these words in 
the section on "the U.S. military advisory and support effort." 

We may all be proud of the effectiveness of the U.S. military advisory and 
support. With few exceptions, U.S. military advisors report excellent rela- 
tions with their Vietnamese counterparts, whom they characterize as proud 
and willing soldiers. The stiffening and exemplary effect of U.S. behavior 
and attitudes has had an impact which is not confined to the war effort, but 
which extends deeply into the whole Vietnamese way of doing things. 
The U.S. advisory effort, however, cannot assure ultimate success. This is a 
Vietnamese war and the country and the war must in the end be run solely 
by the Vietnamese. It will impair their independence and development of 
their initiative if we leave our advisors in place beyond the time they are 
really needed . . . [emphasis supplied] 

Policy concerning aid to the Vietnamese may be considered to range between 
two polar extremes. One extreme would be our doing almost everything difficult 
for the Vietnamese, and the other would consist of limiting our own actions to 
provision of no more than material aid and advice while leaving everything im- 
portant to be done by the Vietnamese themselves. Choice of a policy at any point 
on this continuum reflects a judgment concerning the basic nature of the prob- 
lem; i.e. to what extent political and to what extent military; to what extent 
reasonable by political means and to what extent resolvable by military means 
even by outsiders. But in this case the choice of policy also reflected confidence 
that success was being achieved by the kind and level of effort that had already 
been devoted to this venture. The policy of NSAM 273 was predicated on such 
confidence. It constituted by its reference to the 2 October statement an explicit 
anticipation, with tentative time phases expressly stated, of the assumption by 
the Vietnamese of direct responsibility for doing all the important things them- 
selves sometime in 1965, the U.S. thereafter providing only material aid and 
non-participating advice at the end of that period. That optimism was explicit 
in the report to the President of 2 October wherein the conclusion of the section 
on "The US Military Advisory and Support Effort" consisted of this paragraph: 

Acknowledging the progress achieved to date, there still remains the question 
of when the final victory can be obtained. If, by victory, we mean the reduc- 

20 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

tion of the insurgency to something httle more than sporadic banditry in 
outlying districts, it is the view of the vast majority of mihtary commanders 
consulted that success may be achieved in the I, II, and III Corps area by 
the end of CY 1964. Victory in IV Corps will take longer — at least well into 
1965. These estimates assume that the political situation does not significantly 
impede the effort, [emphasis supplied] 


The caveat given expression in the last sentence of the conclusions cited above 
offered an escape clause, but it was clearly not employed as a basis for planning 
and for programming. It was not emphasized, and the lack of emphasis was 
consistent with the general tone of optimism in the report as a whole. This general 
optimism in fact reflected the judgments proferred by most of the senior officials 
upon whom the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs had 
principally relied for advice. It is obvious, however, that the optimism was scarcely 
consistent with the grave apprehension with which the political situation was 
viewed at the time. 

Ever since the Buddhist crisis began in early summer, the fear had been felt 
at the highest U.S. policy levels that the explosiveness and instability of the 
political situation in Vietnam might undermine completely our efforts there. This 
apprehension had been the reason why the President first dispatched the Menden- 
hall-Krulak mission to Vietnam in early September, and then, a fortnight later, 
sent the McNamara-Taylor mission. The political crisis existing in Vietnam was 
indeed a subject of great concern at the very time of the latter visit. During this 
visit a decision was made that a proposed Presidential letter of remonstrance to 
Diem for his repressive policies concerning the Buddhists was tactically unwise 
and that, instead, a letter over the signature of the Joint Chiefs, ostensibly di- 
rected primarily to the military situation, should be delivered to Diem carrying 
a somewhat modified expression of protest. That letter dated October 1 was 
delivered to Diem on October 2 and included these judgments: 

Now, as Secretary McNamara has told you, a serious doubt hangs over our 
hopes for the future. Can we win together in the face of the reaction to the 
measures taken by your government against the Buddhists and the students? 
As a military man I would say that we can win provided there are no fur- 
ther political setbacks. The military indicators are still generally favorable 
and can be made more so by actions readily within the power of your gov- 
ernment. If you allow me, I would mention a few of the military actions 
which I believe necessary for this improvement. 

And, in closing the letter the CJCS expressed himself in these words: 

In closing, Mr. President, may I give you my most important overall im- 
pression? Up to now the battle against the Viet Cong had seemed endless; 
no one has been willing to set a date for its successful conclusion. After 
talking to scores of officers, Vietnamese and American, I am convinced that 
the Viet Cong insurgency in the North and Center can be reduced to little 
more than sporadic incidents by the end of 1964. The Delta will take longer 
but should be completed by the end of 1965. But for these predictions to 
be valid, certain conditions must be met. Your government should be pre- 
pared to energize all agencies, military and civil, to a higher output of ac- 
tivity than up to now. Ineffective commanders and province officials must 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 21 

be replaced as soon as identified. Finally, there should be a restoration of 
domestic tranquility on the homefront if political tensions are to be allayed 
and external criticism is to abate. Conditions are needed for the creation of 
an atmosphere conducive to an effective campaign directed at the objectives, 
vital to both of us, of defeating the Viet Cong and of restoring peace to 
your country. 

This letter was a policy instrument, of course, rather than exclusively an ex- 
pression of an appraisal. As a matter of tactics it was softened considerably from 
the first proposed letter which was to say that the United States would consider 
disassociating itself from the Vietnam Government and discontinue support un- 
less the GVN altered its repressive policies. It is cited here mainly to indicate 
the concern, made explicit by the senior members of the U.S. Mission in late 
September, concerning the possible effect upon military effectiveness of the po- 
litical unrest. 

About a week later, in testimony before the House Committee on Foreign 
Affairs, Secretary McNamara repeated the theme that the military situation was 
good, that the political situation was bad, that the political situation could have 
a bad effect on the military situation, but it had not had such a bad effect yet. 

Following an appraisal of the military situation by Gen. Taylor, Chairman 
Morgan asked the SecDef "Mr. Secretary, then you feel and I am sure the 
General feels, that the military effort is going very well?" To this the SecDef's 
response was : 

Secretary McNamara. Yes we do. I think Gen. Taylor has emphasized 
and I would like to emphasize again, that while we believe the serious po- 
litical unrest has not to date seriously and adversely affected the military 
effort, it may do so in the future, if it continues. 

Chairman Morgan. General, or Mr. Secretary, could we say that the 
military situation is moving well, but the political situation is not — the po- 
litical situation is bad? 

Secretary McNamara. Yes, I think that is a fair summary. 

Chairman Morgan. Mr. Secretary, then, from your observations, both 
you and the General, from the 8 days you spent in the country, you can't 
see any deterioration in the military effort of SVN because of the political 
situation in the country? 

Secretary McNamara. This is a fair statement. 

Chairman Morgan. You feel that the Vietnamese Army is moving ahead 
and is cooperating with our forces in there? 

Secretary McNamara. Yes. Certain of the affairs of the Vietnamese Army 
have been affected by the political unrest of recent months. As Gen. Taylor 
pointed out, some of their relatives have been arrested and subjected to a 
violation of their personal freedoms and liberties, and undoubtedly this has 
tended to turn some of the officers away from support of their government. 

But they are strongly motivated by the desire to resist the Communist 
encroachment . . . and their anti-Communist feelings are stronger than 
their distrust of government. So to date there has been no reduction in the 
effectiveness of their military operations. 

There is no record that this express recognition that the bad political situation 
might affect the military capability was considered a contingency to be foreseen 
in the program, or that anyone suggested it should be. 

22 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol III 

Nearly four months later Secretary McNamara had an explanation to offer 
concerning his view of the situation at the time of this testimony. Appearing once 
more in Executive Session to testify on the authorization bill for the fiscal year 
1965, before the House Committee on Armed Services on 27 January 1964, the 
Secretary was asked by Mr. Chamberman of the House Committee to explain 

his press conference comments on the situation the day before were clearly 
more optimistic than those in his Congressional statement. Both were more 
optimistic than recent news reports from Viet Nam. 

In response, the Secretary went back to his Joint Report to the President of 2 
October, to cite again the caveat which had been expressed as follows. 

The political situation in South Viet Nam remains deeply serious. The 
United States has made clear its continuing opposition to any repressive 
actions in South Viet Nam. While such actions have not yet significantly 
affected the military effort, they could do so in the future. 

In further amplification of this point the Secretary almost claimed, in effect, to 
have foreseen and to have forecast the degradation of capability that it was then 
clear (in January 1964) had occurred and, had, in fact continued ever since 
November. These were his words, 

We didn't say — but I think you could have predicted that what we had in 
mind was — that ( 1 ) either Diem would continue his repressive measures and 
remain in power, in which case he would continue to lose public support 
and, since that is the foundation of successful counter guerilla operations, 
the military operations would be adversely affected, or (2) alternatively he 
would continue his repressive measures and build so much resistance that 
he would be thrown out, then a coup would take place, and during the 
period of reorganization following . . . there would be instability and un- 
certainty and military operations would be adversely affected. 

No fully persuasive explanation has been discovered of the apparent dis- 
crepancy between this foresight concerning the possible ill effects of political 
instability and the generally optimistic prognosis and the program based upon 
that optimism. The Secretary had had no enthusiasm for the coup. Possibly he 
adjusted, though reluctantly, to the idea and decided that the political difficulties 
would either be overcome by means he did not feel it was his duty to explore, 
or would not be serious or lasting enough to be critical. However, all of the 
thinking then in vogue about counterinsurgency insisted that favorable political 
circumstances were essential to success. Therefore, unless it was assumed that 
favorable political circumstances could be brought about, the counterinsurgency 
effort was bound to fail. So long as the adverse case was not proved one had to 
assume ultimately favorable political conditions because it was unthinkable to 
stop trying. 

Even before NSAM 273 was adopted, evidence began to accumulate that the 
optimistic assumptions underlying it were suspect. First, there was unmistakable 
and accumulating evidence that, in the period immediately after the coup, the 
situation had deteriorated in many places as a direct result of the coup. Then 
came increasing expression of a judgment that this deterioration was not merely 
an immediate and short lived phenomenon, but something, rather, that continued 
well after the worst administrative confusions immediately after the coup had 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 196 3- Apr. 1965 23 

been reduced. Finally, the impression, developed in many quarters, and eventually 
spread to all, that before the coup, the situation had been much more adverse 
than we had recognized officially at the time. Before the end of December, we 
decided to institute a system of covert checks on the accuracy of our basic in- 
telligence — a large part of which came from Vietnamese sources. (There was 
suspicion that the interests of these officials were often served by reporting to us 
or to their superiors within the GVN what we or the GVN high officials wanted 
to hear.) As December and January and February passed, the situation reports 
trended consistently downward, the accumulating evidence seemed to indicate 
quite clearly that appreciation of setbacks and of adverse developments was 
regularly belated. The result was that programs tended commonly to be premised 
upon a more optimistic appraisal of the situation than was valid for the time 
when they were adopted, whether or not they were valid for an earlier period. 

Judgments of the trend of events in Vietnam and of the progress of our pro- 
gram had long been a subject of controversy, both public and within the councils 
of government. That there had been an undercurrent of pessimism concerning the 
situation in Vietnam was no secret to the responsible officials who visited Vietnam 
in September and who reported to the President on 2 October, or to the larger 
group that convened at CINCPAC HQ on 20 November. Most of the qualifica- 
tions in their minds related to imponderables of the political situation, which it 
was always hoped and assumed would be successfully resolved. The focus of the 
disagreement had generally been the poHcies of Diem and Nhu especially with 
respect to the Buddhists. During the summer of 1963, disagreement over the 
state of affairs in Vietnam had not only been aired in closed official councils, but 
had flared into open controversy in the public press in a manner that seemed to 
many to be detrimental to the U.S. It was possible to get directly conflicting 
views from the experts. One of the better known illustrations of this bewildering 
diversity of opinions among those with some claim to know is the instance re- 
counted by both Schlesinger and Hilsman of the reports to President Kennedy 
on 10 September 1963 by General Victor Krulak and Mr. Joseph A. Mendenhall 
upon their return from their special mission to Vietnam. General Krulak was a 
specialist in counterinsurgency and Mr. Mendenhall had, not long before, com- 
pleted a tour of duty in Saigon as Deputy Chief of Mission under Ambassador 
Durbrow. After hearing them both out (with Krulak painting the rosy picture 
and Mendenhall the gloomy one), the President, in the words of the Hilsman 
account, "looked quizzically from one to the other. You two did visit the same 
country, didn't you?" 

Much of the disagreement concerning the progress of the anti-Viet Cong 
effort during the middle of 1963 was related intimately to issues posed by the 
Buddhist revolt. Where there was pessimism or scepticism about the progress of 
the war in general or the success of the pacification program, the attitude was 
generally associated with the judgment that Diem and Nhu were not admin- 
istering affairs right and were alienating rather than winning the support of the 
masses of South Vietnamese people. Aside from Diem and Nhu and the Buddhist 
revolt, the major center of controversy was the situation in the Delta. The fact 
that NSAM 273 called for priority effort in the Delta reflected official recognition 
that the situation in the Delta demanded it. The ground work for this was laid 
during the McNamara-Taylor visit, but recognition of the serious problem there 
had come slowly and not without controversy. 

A public controversy on the subject was touched off by an article filed in Saigon 
on 15 August 1963 by David Halberstam of the New York Times. The Halber- 
stam article said that the RVN military situation in the Delta had deteriorated 

24 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

seriously over the past year, and was getting increasingly worse. The VC had 
been increasing greatly in number, were in possession of more and better arms 
and had larger stores of them, and their boldness to operate in large units — up 
to 600 or even 1,000 men — had become marked. The VC weapon losses were 
down, and the GVN weapon losses were up. U.S. military men and civilian of- 
ficials in the field, according to this article, were reported to be very apprehensive 
of the effect of all this upon the Strategic Hamlet Program, and the whole future 
of GVN control in the Delta was in doubt. But, it was hinted strongly, higher 
echelon authorities were unwilling to perceive the dangers. ''Some long-time ob- 
servers are comparing official American optimism about the Delta to the French 
optimism that preceded France's route from Indochina in 1954. They warn of 
high-level self-deception." 

The official refutation of the Halberstam article, prepared for the Secretary of 
Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs by SACSA, categorically denied 
everything. Based upon what it termed "the most reliable and accurate data avail- 
able from both classified and unclassified sources" the analysis showed, in the 
language of its summary, that "the military situation is improving throughout 
the Republic of Vietnam, not as rapidly in the Mekong Delta as in the North, 
but improving markedly none the less. The picture is precisely the opposite of 
the one painted by Mr. HalberstamT In the body of the refutation, 13 of the 
principle charges in the Halberstam article were analyzed, one-by-one, and bat- 
tered by an array of percentages, statistics presented both tabularly and in graphs, 
and all of the numbers were very impressive and persuasive if taken at face value. 
They showed, for instance, that the VC armed attacks and VC initiated incidents 
(not armed), in mid-summer 1963 were below the 1962 average, that the average 
net weekly loss of GVN weapons to the VC had fallen from 62 in 1961 to 12 in 
1962 to only 6 of 1963, and that the rate of both company-sized and battalion- 
sized VN attacks had fallen markedly, in 1963 from the 1962 level. 

Generalizations about how the different groups, agencies, and echelons sided 
on the issue of the Vietnam situation tend to oversimplify because however they 
are made, there are exceptions. Most of the senior officers in-field in the direct 
line of operational responsibility tended to accept the more optimistic interpreta- 
tion. Examples in this category would include CINCPAC (Admiral Felt), 
COMUSMACV (General Harkins), Ambassador Nolting (who was soon to be 
replaced, however, by Ambassador Lodge, who tended to be less optimistic), and 
CIA Station Chief Richardson. Nolting and Richardson had been charged to 
develop a close and friendly relationship with Diem, and this involved necessarily 
a special sort of sympathy for his outlook. The lives of most senior officers 
charged with operating responsibility have been pointed to giving leadership in 
situations of stress. This leadership includes setting an example of high morale, 
by their own conduct, to encourage enthusiastic esprit de corps among subordi- 
nates, and to project an unfailing image of confidence to the outside world. Such 
men are likely to find it almost impossible to recognize and to acknowledge 
existence of a situation seriously adverse to their assigned mission. It is contrary 
to their lifetime training never to be daunted. This characteristic makes them 
good leaders for difficult missions but it does not especially qualify them for 
rendering dispassionate judgments of the feasibility of missions or of the progress 
they are making. Admiral Felt and General Harkins in the field, and General 
Krulak in Washington, appear to have been more the gung ho type of leaders of 
men in combat situations than the cautious reflective weighers of complex cir- 
cumstances and feasibilities, including political complications. 

Officials and agencies in Washington who depended directly or primarily upon 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 25 

these officers for an understanding of the situation tended, very naturally, to put 
their greatest faith in the judgment of those in the field who were administratively 
responsible and who had access to the most comprehensive official reports and 
data. If there were disadvantages in the position of these people, a major one was 
that most of their information was supplied by GVN officials, who often had a 
vested interest in making things look good. Moreover, the U.S. officials in posi- 
tions of operational responsibility had a professional commitment to programs 
which, often, they had had a hand in estabUshing. This normally inhibited them 
from giving the worst interpretation to evidence that was incomplete, ambiguous 
or inconclusive — and most evidence was one or more of these. Moreover, the 
public relations aspects of most positions of operating responsibility make it 
seem necessary to put a good face on things as a part of that operating responsi- 
bility. The morale of the organization seems to demand it. Finally, the intelligence 
provided on an official basis generally followed formats devised for uniform 
formal compilation and standard statistical treatment. All along the line, lower 
echelons were judged, rewarded or penalized by higher echelons in terms of the 
progress revealed by the reports they turned in. This practice encouraged and 
facilitated feeding unjustifiably optimistic data into the reporting machinery. 

The darker view was easier for those who lacked career commitment to the 
success of the programs in the form in which they had been adopted. The more 
pessimistic interpretations were generally based, also, upon sources of informa- 
tion which were intimate, personal, out-of-channels, and with non-official per- 
sonages. They were particularistic rather than comprehensive, intimate and in- 
tuitive rather than formal, impressionistic rather than statistical. 

Moreover, some of the principal Cassandras were newsmen whose stories, 
whether correct or incorrect, made the front page and sometimes even the head- 
lines. This suggested a vested interest in what for one reason or another was 
sensational. Other Cassandras were military advisors of junior grades, or lesser 
USOM officers especially those in the provinces, whose views were easy to dis- 
count by higher officials because, however familiar the junior officers might be 
with local acts or particular details, they generally lacked knowledge of the 
overall picture. 

There was unquestionable ambivalence in U.S. official attitudes concerning 
progress and prospects. Despite the repeatedly expressed qualifications concern- 
ing the potentially grave effect of the political instability in Vietnam, the pro- 
gramming and policy formulation, as already noted, was without qualification 
based on optimistic assumptions. In an over-view of the Vietnam War (1960- 
1963) prepared by SACS A and delivered to the Secretary shortly after his return 
from South Vietnam, the mission's assessment of military progress was sum- 
marized in these terms : 

The evidences of overall mihtary progress were so unmistakably clear that 
the mission, acknowledging the implications and uncertainties of the power 
crisis underway in Vietnam, concluded that the GVN military efi'ort had 
achieved a momentum of progress which held further promise of ultimate 
victory over the Viet Cong; further, that victory was possible within reason- 
able limits of time and investment of U.S. resources. 

The high priority of the Delta problem was recognized, in this same over-view, 
with the statement that "the mission was impressed with the evidence that the 
decisive conflict of the war was approaching in the Mekong Delta." The major 
difficulty there was identified somewhat euphemistically as due to the fact that 

26 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

"the mission found evidences that the Government of Vietnam had overextended 
its hamlet construction program in these southern provinces." 

Not long before this, however, Michael Forrestal in the White House had 
sent to Secretary McNamara a copy of a Second Informal Appreciation of the 
Status of the Strategic Hamlet Program dated 1 September 1963, and prepared 
by USOM Regional Affairs officers. This Appreciation gave province by province 
summaries that were far from encouraging concerning the Delta. In addition to 
Long An and Dinh Tuong provinces which were the worst, it was said of Kien 
Tuong that 

the program continues to be slow . . . few hamlets are completed and a 
fraction of planned militia trained . . . the one bright spot . . . remains 
the Pri Phap area, which is, however, vulnerable militarily should the VC 
decide to concentrate their efforts against it. The Chief of Province . . . 
we feel is totally unquaHfied. Vinh Binh, although the hamlet program con- 
tinued to increase in numbers . . . the security situation deteriorated in 
July and August. The removal of a recently introduced RVN battalion 
damaged the effort, and a change in leadership dislocated projects under- 
way . . . Nhi Long has been severely threatened in August, the route to 
Vinh Long is again insecure . . . elsewhere the hamlet program appears to 
be over-extended and with insufficient troop support is under serious threat 
in former VC strongholds. Security in southernmost Long Toan District, the 
province VC haven, continues to be very poor . . . Major Thao, an ex- 
tremely competent leader, . . . was replaced in late July . . . 
Vinh Long: Although most signs indicate progress . . . evaluation of Vinh 
Long remains largely an evaluation of Lt. Col. Phuoc, Chief of Province 
. . . whose idea had previously led him to construct through corvee labor 
kilometer after kilometer of useless walls, and whose insensitivity to the 
population had led to considerable popular antipathy. An apparent change 
of attitude has taken place . . . and Phuoc now says that the strategic 
hamlet is a state of mind rather than a fortification. Phuoc's sincerity and 
commitment to the program are still problematical, however, as is public 
acceptance of him and of the program . . . some pessimists feel that this 
may well prove . . . the most difficult province in the Delta to pacify. 
Chuong Thien: The Communists still control most of the people and land 
in Chuong Thien . . . [the] new province chief . . . has been evasive and 
has shown no desire really to cooperate . . . the large relocation effort 
. . . risks loss of the province to the VC because the people involved have 
been alienated. 

Ba Xuyen: Shortcoming in the implementation of the hamlet program, as 
well as a lack of confidence in the province chief ... led to the recall in 
late August of the USOM provincial representative and possible unofficial 
suspension of USOM ... in an effort to build statistics, the province had 
constructed a number of vulnerable and non-viable hamlets. There has been 
a forced wholesale relocation, insufficiently justified, poorly financed . . . 
numerous occurrences have convinced us that there is venality , . . and 
lack of good faith. A new province chief (not presently in prospect) might 
permit progress in this rich and important area ... a major effort to gain 
popular support for government is needed in this as in many other Delta 

An Xuyen: The province remains under VC control with the exception of 
a handful of widely separated government strong points . . . An Xuyen, 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 27 

comprising much of the enemy's main Delta power center, is a primary 
source of men, money and supplies for the Communists. 

Whether or not the full seriousness of the situation in the Delta was appreciated 
at the time of the McNamara-Taylor mission in September 1963, it is entirely 
clear that the Delta was recognized as a high priority problem. The recommenda- 
tions set forth in their joint Report to the President of 2 October called for "the 
training and arming of hamlet militia at an accelerated rate, especially in the 
Delta" and for "a consolidation of the Strategic Hamlet Program, especially in 
the Delta, and action to insure that in the future strategic hamlets are not built 
until they can be protected and until civic action programs can be introduced." 
And in the appraisal of overall progress, the judgments were rendered that 

The Delta remains the toughest area of all, and now requires top priority in 
both GVN and U.S. efforts. Approximately 40 percent of the people live 
there; the area is rich and has traditionally resisted central authority; it is 
the center of Viet Cong strength — over one-third of the "hard-core" are 
found there; and the maritime nature of the terrain renders it much the most 
difficult region to pacify. 

During the Honolulu meeting of 20 November when Gen. Harkins presented 
a summary of the situation in 13 critical provinces, 7 were in the Delta. Secretary 
McNamara in a detailed discussion on that occasion of the situation on these 
provinces suggested that there were three things to be done in the Delta: (1) to 
get the Chieu Hoi program moving; (2) to get the fertilizer program going in 
order to increase the output of rice, and (3) most important, to improve the 
security of strategic hamlets by arming and training and increasing the numbers 
of the militia. It is recorded that at this point General Taylor made a suggestion 
that perhaps we needed joint U.S.-Vietnamese province teams to attack problems 
at the province level because the problems were in fact different in each province. 
This latter seems worth noting in view of the emphasis that was to be placed, 
some months later, upon getting more Americans into a supervisory or advisory 
capacity in the provincial areas. 

When General Harkins presented his review of the military situation at this 
meeting, he indicated that weapon losses were quite high, particularly in Novem- 
ber when the government forces lost nearly 3 weapons to every one captured 
from the VC. The losses were incurred largely by the Civil Guard, the Self- 
Defense Corps and the hamlet militia. It was also indicated at the meeting that 
the greatest single difficulty of a pacification program was in the problem of 
security in the hamlets. The assumptions were retained that: ( 1 ) the Com- 
munist insurgency would be brought under control in the Northern two-thirds 
of the country by the end of calendar year '64, the phase down of the RVNAF 
could be started at the beginning of calendar year 1965 (instead of the previous 
estimate of calendar year '66); and this resulted in a reduction from previous 
estimates of funding for the RVNAF (excluding para-military and police) as 
follows: (in millions of dollars) 

Fiscal year '65 

Fiscal year '66 

Fiscal year '67 

Fiscal year '68 

Fiscal year '69 


28 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

While those from Washington who were attending the conference at Honolulu, 
and Ambassador Lodge, were returning to Washington, President Kennedy was 
assassinated. The following day, on 23 November, a memorandum was prepared 
to guide the new President for his meeting with Ambassador Lodge. The main 
points of this guidance stressed the need for teamwork within this U.S. mission. 

It is absolutely vital that the whole of the country team, and particularly 
Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins, work in close harmony and with 
full consultation, back-and-forth. There must be no back-biting or sniping 
at low levels such as may have contributed to recent news stories about 
General Harkins being out of favor with the new regime . . . 


In response to the call for priority of effort to turn the tide in the Delta, an 
additional ARVN division was shifted to the Delta, and directives were issued 
to COMUSM ACV to ^effect an increase in military tempo there, especially to 
improve tactics, to maintain full strength in combat elements, in arming and 
training hamlet militia. Along with this, he was to consolidate strategic hamlet 
programs to bring the pace of construction to a level consistent with GVN 
capabilities both to provide essential protection and to introduce civic action 
programs. AID actions to increase production in the Delta were also initiated and 
accelerated — fertilizer, pesticides, rice seed, the hamlet school program and 
hamlet medics, generators and radio sets, etc. USOM had, further, conveyed to 
the GVN its assurance that, subject to Congressional appropriations, the U.S. 
fully intended to maintain the level of aid previously given to the Diem Govern- 

Scarcely more than a week after the formalization of NSAM 273 on 26 Novem- 
ber 1963, the adverse trend of events that previously had been only rumored 
or feared moved much closer to being acknowledged to be an unmistakable and 
inescapable reality. On 7 December (Saigon time), Ambassador Lodge forwarded 
a report of USOM provincial representative Young on the situation in Long An 
province as of 6 Demember. Part of that report was as follows: 

( 1 ) The only progress made in Long An province during the month of 
November, 1963 has been by the Communist Viet Cong. The past thirty 
days have produced a day-by-day elimination of US/Vietnamese spon- 
sored strategic hamlets and the marked increase in Viet Cong influence, 
military operations, physical control of the countryside and Communist 
controlled combat hamlets. 

(2) At the end of September, 1963 province officials stated that 219 strategic 
hamlets were completed and met the 6 criteria. Effective 30 November 
1963 this figure has been reduced to about 45 on the best estimates of 
MAAG, USOM and new province chief. Major Dao. Twenty-seven 
hamlets were attacked in November compared with a figure of 77 for 
June. This would appear to be an improvement. However, the explana- 
tion is a simple one: so many strategic hamlets have been rendered in- 
effective by the Viet Cong that only 27 were worth attacking this 
month . . . 

(4) The reason for this unhappy situation is the failure of the government of 
Vietnam to support and protect the hamlets. The concept of the strategic 
hamlet called for a self-defense corps capable of holding off enemy 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 29 

attack for a brief period until regular forces (ARVN, Civil Guard, or 
SDC) could come to the rescue. In hamlet after hamlet this assistance 
never came, or in most cases, arrived the following morning during 
daylight hours . . . 

(5) Two explanations are presented for the lack of assistance: (a) there are 
not sufficient troops to protect key installations and district headquarters 
and at the same time go to the assistance of the hamlet, (b) Both official 
orders and policy prohibit the movement of troops after dark to go to 
the assistance of hamlets or isolated military posts . . . 

(9) The strategic hamlet program in this province can be made workable 
and very effective against the Viet Cong. But help must come immedi- 
ately in the form of additional troops and new concepts of operation, 
not in the same reheated French tactics of 1954, beefed up with more 
helicopters and tanks. The hamlets must be defended if this province 
is not to fall under complete control of the Viet Cong in the next few 
[material missing] 

(11) See also General Don's statement to me on Long An, notably his state- 
ment that totally useless and impractical hamlets were built with forced 
labor so that grafters would receive the money allocated to strategic 
hamlets ... 

(12) I am asking MACV and USOM to find out how the above and the 
scandalous conditions described by General Don escaped inspection. 

This report on Long An province reached Washington about the same time 
that a Cabinet level meeting at the Department of State was being held to re- 
view the situation in Vietnam and discuss possible further actions. A briefing 
on the situation was presented, on behalf of the Defense Department and the 
Secretary, by General Krulak. General Krulak's briefing included the following 

a. The new GVN shows a desire to respond to U.S. advice and improve its 
military effectiveness and has the capability to do so. Its plans are basically 
sound but it is in a state of organizational turmoil which cannot fail to affect 
its capabilities adversely for the short term. 

b. The VC are making an intensive although loosely coordinated effort to 
increase their hold on the countryside while the new government is shaking 

c. The VC have exhibited a powerful military capability for at least a brief 
period of intensified operations and their skill at least in counter airborne 
operations is improving. 

d. There is ground for concern that infiltration of materiel support has in- 
creased in the Delta area but there is little hard proof. This is a prime in- 
telligence deficiency since it affects not only the military tactics but our over- 
all Southeast Asia strategy. 

The prevailing view at this time seems to have been more apprehensive than Gen. 
Krulak's briefing would suggest. It was immediately decided that the Secretary 
should have another look at the situation by returning from the December NATO 
meeting via Saigon. 

The Backup Book for the Secretary of Defense's Saigon trip of 1 8-20 Decem- 
ber contains indications of the major questions that he proposed to look into dur- 
ing his brief projected visit to Vietnam. The Young Report on Long An Province 

30 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

as of 6 December had evidently made a strong impression, and it seems the 
Secretary was especially anxious to safeguard against being misled in the future 
about the status of programs. With respect to the Strategic Hamlet Program 
generally, it is evident that there was apprehension concerning the questionable 
statistics that had been used in the Diem regime's portrayal of the program. It 
was hoped that it would be possible to identify the requirements for a program 
of on-going current assessments of the program as quickly as possible. There was 
also an intention to publish an appropriate set of new guidelines for the coordina- 
tion of construction, civic action and military programs, and, perhaps more im- 
portant, to accomplish the consolidation and correction of hamlet programs in 
the shortest possible time. Five problem areas with respect to the strategic hamlet 
program were identified prior to the trip, these were: 

a. What progress is being achieved by the surveys and when will the reports 
be available? 

b. What specific actions were then underway to coordinate the companion 
military, political and social programs? 

c. When would the new guidelines be published? 

d. What action was underway to indoctrinate the newly assigned province 
officials to enable them to pursue the program effectively? 

e. Was it plain that one big problem would be to insure that the province 
and district officials understood and executed vigorously their revised pro- 
grams? Had any thought been given to adding an additional advisor or two, 
in the critical provinces, to work at the district level and to insure that the 
officials actually drove programs forward. 

A point to be noted in these is the growing idea of placing an increasing num- 
ber of advisors at the province and district level. 

The Secretary made certain decisions of an immediate nature concerning pro- 
grams in Vietnam while he was still in Saigon; and immediately upon his return 
he made his report to the President in which he described the situation as he had 
found it, and made further recommendations that he had evidently not felt em- 
powered to enact without Presidential approval. 

Among the actions agreed upon during the visit to Saigon on 19-20 December 
were the following: 

1. The GVN should be pressed to increase troop density in six provinces in 
III Corps by about 100% (ten infantry and three engineering batallions), in 
accordance with plans discussed at a meeting with COMUSMACV and the 

2. Revise the pacification plans for critical provinces to insure that they 
reflect scheduling and programming "based on a realistic appraisal of the 
actual status of the hamlets, the SDC and Civil Guard and ARVN as well 
as the rehabilitation materials available." 

3. Increase U.S. military advisory strength in the thirteen critical provinces 
(agreed to be critical at Honolulu) in accordance with a table submitted by 

4. Reinforce USOM representation in thirteen critical provinces starting 
with Long An in accordance with a proposal from USOM Saigon. 

5. Provide uniforms for the SDC with priority on the Delta area. 

6. Press the GVN for a clear statement, in form of orders to province chiefs, 
for continuance and reshaping of the hamlet program. 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 31 

7. Press the GVN to provide for a Joint General Staff (JCS) chief, and 
for a III Corps commander with no other responsibiUties. 

8. Continue to stress to the GVN the need for forceful central leadership 
and effective and visible popular leadership. 

The Secretary's report for the President dated 21 December '63 [Doc. 52] was 
gloomy and expressed fear that the situation had been deteriorating long before 
any deterioration had been suspected (officially). The report began by saying 
that the situation was "very disturbing," and that unless current trends were re- 
versed within two or three months they would "lead to neutralization at best and 
more likely to a Communist-controlled state." The new government of Big Minh 
was identified as the greatest source of concern because it seemed indecisive and 
drifting. There seemed to be a clear lack of administrative talent and of political 
experience. While on the other hand generals who should have been directing 
military affairs were preoccupied with political matters [i.e., working to assure 
or to increase their own political power within the RMC]. 

A second major weakness seemed to the Secretary to be the Country Team. 
He felt that it lacked leadership and had been "poorly informed" and was "not 
working according to a common plan." He had found as an example of con- 
fusion conflicts between USOM and military recommendations, in cases of recom- 
mendations to the government of Vietnam and Washington concerning the size 
of the military budget. "Above all, Lodge has virtually no official contact with 
Harkins." The Ambassador, the Secretary felt, simply could not conduct a co- 
ordinated administration — not because he did not wish to, but because he had 
"operated as a loner all his life and cannot readily change now." Concerning 
enemy progress, the report said 

Viet Cong progress has been great during the period since the coup, with 
my best guess being that the situation has in fact been deteriorating in the 
countryside since July to a far greater extent than we reaUzed because of 
undue dependence on distorted Vietnamese reporting. The Viet Cong now 
control very high proportions of the people in certain key provinces, par- 
ticularly those directly South and West of Saigon. [Doc. 52] [emphasis 

As remedial measures he recommended that the government of Vietnam be 
required to reallocate its military forces so that its effective strength in these key 
provinces would be essentially doubled. There would also have to be major in- 
creases in both the U.S. military staff and the USOM staff, to the point where 
the numbers of Americans assigned in the field would give the U.S. a reliable 
independent U.S. appraisal of the status of operations. (This was a clear enough 
indication of the Secretary's unhappiness with past reporting.) Third, he stated 
that a "realistic pacification plan" would have to be prepared. Specifically, they 
should allocate adequate time to make the remaining government controlled 
areas secure, and only then work from them into contiguous surrounding areas. 

The Secretary stressed that the situation was worst in the Delta and surround- 
ing the capitol, and that in the North things were better, and that General 
Harkins remained hopeful that the latter areas could be made reasonably secure 
late in the year. The report expressed considerable concern over the increasing 
infiltration of men and equipment from North Vietnam. Various proposals to 
counter this infiltration had been discussed in Saigon, but the Secretary was not 
yet convinced that there were means that were politically acceptable and mili- 
tarily feasible of stopping that infiltration. 

32 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

Minh had strongly opposed any ideas of possible neutralization of Vietnam. 
(This was taken to dispose of proposals suggested by Senator Mansfield, President 
DeGaulle, the New York Times, columnist Walter Lippman and others). 

Concerning a possible escalation of U.S. effort, the Secretary indicated that 
he had directed supply of a modest increase in artillery, but, "US resources and 
personnel cannot usefully be substantially increased." 

In concluding, the Secretary said that his appraisal might be overly pessimistic, 
and that Lodge, Harkins and Minh, while agreeing on specific points, seemed to 
feel that January might bring a significant improvement. 

Following his report to the President, the Secretary made the following remarks 
to the press, at the White House: 

. . . We have just completed our report to the President . . . We observed 
the results of the very substantial increase in VC activity, an increase which 
began shortly after the new government was formed, and has extended over 
a period of several weeks. 

During this time, the Viet Cong have attacked and attacked successfully, a 
substantial number of the strategic hamlets. The rate of that VC activity, 
however, has substantially dropped within the past week to ten days. 
This rapid expansion of activity, I think, could have been expected. It was 
obviously intended to take advantage of the period of organization in the 
new government . . . We received in great detail the plans of the South 
Vietnamese and the plans of our military advisors for operations during 
1964. We have every reason to believe they will be successful. We are de- 
termined that they shall be. 


The Secretary had made evident in his memo of 21 December to the President 
that he had become seriously disturbed at the failure of the reporting system in 
Vietnam to alert him promptly to the deterioration of the situation there. CIA 
Director McCone had accompanied him on the trip to Saigon and, immediately 
upon his return, Mr. McCone initiated efforts to improve the reporting system. 
On 23 December he wrote the Secretary: 

. . . information furnished to us from MACV and the Embassy concerning 
the current Viet Cong activities in a number of provinces and the relative 
position of the SVN Government versus the Viet Cong forces was incorrect, 
due to the fact that the field officers of the MAAG and USOM had been 
grossly misinformed by the province and district chiefs. It was reported to 
us, and I believe correctly, that the province and district chiefs felt obliged 
to "create statistics" which would meet the approbation of the Central 

I believe it is quite probable that the same practice might be repeated by 
the new province and district chiefs appointed by the MRC . . . 

McCone, therefore, proposed development of a new, covert method of checking 
on the information supplied by these regular reporting authorities on the progress 
of the war and on pacification and other counterinsurgency efforts. A plan was 
developed within CIA by 3 January 1964 which called for the formation of a 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 33 

mission of 10 to 12 experienced intelligence officers, all drawn from CIA, to 
proceed to Saigon for a 60 to 90 day TDY beginning about 12 January. There, 
under the direction of the CAS Station Chief, they would undertake: 

1. A survey of Vietnamese/American counterinsurgency . reporting ma- 

2. Develop, assess, and recruit new covert sources of information, to serve 
as a check, and finally, 

3. Assist the station chief in developing recommendations, for submission 
to Washington through the Saigon country team, on means of improving 
overall GVN and US reporting machinery. 

McCone forwarded these plans to McNamara on 7 January for discussion at 
a meeting that same day. Following the meeting of 7 January on this original 
proposal, a revised proposal was drawn up and submitted by McCone to Mc- 
Namara for concurrence on 9 January. The revision was largely responsive to 
a fear of the Secretary that, as originally proposed, the TDY team would serve 
as a sort of Inspector General functioning independently of both the Country 
Team and the CAS Station/Saigon. Accordingly the new draft expressly specified 
that a separate reporting system would not be established, nor a reorganization 
of the existing reporting system attempted. It would attempt, however, to de- 
velop through covert techniques a method of spot checking the accuracy of 
regular reporting and develop also new covert sources of information on the 
progress of the war. 

In accepting the proposal in a written reply dated 16 January, Secretary Mc- 
Namara expressed insistence on making this a team effort, first by emphasizing 
that "I do not believe that the team should have an inspectoral function for the 
overall reporting system," and second by adding to the draft submitted for his 
signature the clause, "but it should be a joint program involving all of the 
affected members of the country team." When the definitive messages went out 
to Saigon they had the concurrence of State, Defense and CIA. 

It is understandable enough from an administrative point of view that a 
formally coordinated unified effort seemed preferable. There had been notable 
discords, and failures of communication, and policy disagreement within the 
Mission in the past and these had caused serious problems. Important sources of 
disagreement remained, and anything resembling an IG inquiry might have 
brought about morale problems that it was well to avoid. The reverse of the 
coin was that formalized coordination of intelligence stood the chance of stifling 
or concealing minority dissent. It was indeed the basic mission of the group to 
set up checks. But in the extent to which this system of checks was to be co- 
ordinated with the system as a whole, it risked losing some part of its inde- 
pendence of the accepted view. And it had been the accepted view that had been 
proved wrong. 

By the time full agreement was reached on the terms of reference for the 
team, the team was already in Saigon. A month later it submitted a report 
evaluating the situation in Viet Nam at about the same time that the CAS station 
chiefs submitted two other evaluations which were apparently for a time mis- 
takenly attributed to the TDY team. These evaluations caused enough uneasiness 
within the country team to indicate that interpretation of intelligence and situa- 
tion appraisals remained the touchy matter that the Secretary had foreseen. The 
"Initial Report of CAS Group Findings in SVN," dated 10 February 1964 began 
by acknowledging that the group activities had been temporarily disrupted by 

34 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

the Khanh Coup of 30 January (which will be described later), and did not 
attempt to report on the covert cross checks because before covert cross checks 
could be established it was necessary to learn the pattern and nature of the re- 
porting system then in use, both American and Vietnamese. The first appraisals, 
therefore, were expressly based solely on a new look at what the existing system 
reported. The first impression of the group was that for the most part the Viet- 
namese had been reporting honestly to their American counterparts since the 1 
November coup and that if current reporting was indeed biased it was biased 
against the Diem regime. 

The first general impression of the situation, expressly subject to further in- 
quiry, was that "the momentum of the strategic hamlet program has slowed 
practically to a halt." More specific evaluations, which focused on local situations 
north and east of Saigon and took up most of this initial report, were more 
pessimistic than the "general impression." Within Binh Long Province, security 
had deteriorated rapidly during January and the VC now controlled route 13. 
Well planned and viciously executed VC attacks on hamlets had caused wide 
fear, and produced doubt among the populace that the GVN could protect them. 
The former province chief and deputy chief for military operations had been 
replaced just two days before the Khanh coup. The response to the Khanh coup 
had been one of disgust. Phuoc Thanh Province, according to the province chief, 
was 80% controlled by the VC. The VC controlled the roads, making GVN 
travel impossible without large armed escorts. The VC were moving freely in 
battalion size units with heavy weapons throughout the province. COMUSMACV 
had reported that the one to one GVN/VC ratio in the province was misleading 
because many of the GVN units were tied down in static positions whereas the 
VC were mobile. 

When the Special CAS group turned in its final appraisal on 18 February, 
Gen. Harkins was asked by the CGCS to comment. Gen. Harkins offered, 3 days 
later, a paragraph by paragraph commentary, much of which agreed with the 
CAS group findings. There were a few minor points of fact that were in dis- 
agreement. Where General Harkins pointedly disagreed was in the matter of 
interpretation and emphasis and where both the CAS group and Gen. Harkins 
agreed that past performance had not been good. Gen. Harkins tended to em- 
phasize the hope, as the CAS group did not, that under Khanh the situation 
would perhaps improve. Beyond this, Gen. Harkins was, in general, somewhat 
disturbed that the CAS group might be exceeding its terms of reference by re- 
porting unilaterally, and misleading the national decision process by forwarding 
information not coordinated and cleared with other elements of the U.S. reporting 
mechanism in Vietnam. Perhaps most significant of all, at the very beginning of 
his comments he offered an observation that, internationally or otherwise, raised 
very basic issues of the nature, function, and limitations of the intelligence and 
estimation process. 

Except for the spectacular and eye catching lead sentence ["Tide of in- 
surgency in all four corps areas appears to be going against GVN"], I have 
no quarrel with most of the statements contained in the CAS Survey Team 
appraisal. Where the statements are clean-cut, the supporting information 
was usually provided by my field personnel and reflected in reports already 
sent to Washington by this headquarters. Where the statements are sweep- 
ing, they are based on opinion or an unfortunate penchant for generalizing 
from the specific. My detailed comments follow and are geared to the 
specific paragraphs of the CAS message, [emphasis supplied.] 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 35 

If we examine this statement with particular reference to the words and 
phrases imderHned, the large, epistemological problem of the junction of in- 
telligence and national decision-making is pointedly indicated. By "clean-cut," 
Gen. Harkins undoubtedly referred to phenomena that were concrete, highly 
specific and narrowly factual. These were the sort of phenomena about which 
there could seldom or never be any serious dispute. By "sweeping" statements, 
and by "unfortunate penchant for generalizing from the specific," he was re- 
ferring to the mental process of bridging the gap from the small concrete detail 
— which was seldom or never by itself a basis for large decision — to the inter- 
pretation of that detail — to the judgment of the significant of that detail. Only 
upon the basis of interpretations (judgments) of the importance, meaning and 
relevance of things could policy decisions be made. And that judgment or inter- 
pretation was seldom or never inescapably inherent in the measurable, sharply 
definable, completely unarguable concrete detail. It might be derived from or 
directly reflect such data, but its form would be determined equally, or even 
more, from the perspective in which it was viewed. And this perspective was 
comprised of the whole context of incompletely described, not fully identified 
values, and imperfectly defined priorities, that determined the weight and place 
given to that factual detail in the mysterious calculus of the decision-maker. If 
this were not the case, any bright college boy given the same set of "facts" would 
inevitably derive from them the same judgments of what national policy should 
be, as the canniest, most generally knowledgeable and experienced veteran. 


There was hope that as January 1964 wore on the situation would take a turn 
for the better. But, as the CAS reports cited in the foregoing section suggest, 
things did not get better. The hope was that the Minh regime would find itself, 
but before it did the Khanh coup of 30 January came as another blow to progress 
in the operating program and as a disillusioning surprise to the hopes for the 
stable political situation generally agreed to the prerequisite to ultimate success. 

Despite the unfavorable news — which was beginning to excite the first serious 
proposals within the JCS for carrying the war to the north by expanded clandes- 
tine operations and finally by overt bombing — the Secretary managed to main- 
tain the earlier philosophy that the U.S. involvement would remain limited and 
that in fact the counterinsurgency effort could not really attain its goals unless 
the U.S. role continued to be limited and the South Vietnamese did the main 
job themselves. 

Just before the Khanh coup, in testimony on 27 and 29 January before the 
House Armed Services Committee, the Secretary encountered some sharply prob- 
ing questions on the continuing costs of the war. The questions centered on the 
inconclusiveness of the efforts to date and upon the apparent discrepancies be- 
tween autumnal optimism and the winter discouragements, and between official 
optimism and the pessimistic reports appearing in newspaper stories. Even Mr. 
Mendel Rivers, evidently impatient that the VC had not already been subdued 
and perhaps suspecting that this was due to lack of vigor in our prosecution of 
the war, asked during these hearings if we were planning to "do anything to 
bring this war to the VC, any more than what we have done already . . ." The 
Secretary tried to explain that ". . . It is a Vietnamese war. They are going to 
have to assume the primary responsibility for winning it. Our policy is to limit 
our support to logistical and training support." To this, Mr. Rivers replied with 

36 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

the following question: "There are no plans to change the modus operandi of 
this war, so far as the bleeding of this country is concerned?" 

A little later, Representative Chamberlain asked the Secretary if he continued 
to be as "optimistic" about the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. personnel as he had 
been in October. The Secretary in reply reaffirmed that he beheved that: 

. . . the war in South Vietnam will be won primarily through the South 
Vietnamese efforts; it is a South Vietnamese war. It is a war of the counter 
guerrillas as against the guerrillas. We are only assisting them through 
training and logistical support. 

We started the major program of assistance in training and logistical 
support toward the latter part of 1961. I think it is reasonable to expect that 
after four years of such training we should be able gradually to withdraw 
certain of our training personnel. 

Following this. Representative Stratton addressed an inquiry to the Secretary: 

Mr. Secretary, I am a little bit worried about your statement in answer 
to Mr. Chamberlain, that you still contemplate continuing withdrawal of 
our forces from Vietnam, in line with your previously announced plan. Isn't 
this a little unrealistic, in view of the fact that when you first made the 
announcement things were going a bit better than they appear to be going 
at the moment? And wouldn't you say that in the event that things do not 
go as well as you hope they will, that unquestionably we can't continue to 
withdraw any more of our forces? 

Secretary McNamara's reply: 

No Sir, I would not. I don't believe that we as a nation should assume 
the primary responsibility for the war in South Vietnam. It is a counter- 
guerrilla war, it is a war that can only be won by the Vietnamese themselves. 
Our responsibility is not to substitute ourselves for the Vietnamese, but to 
train them to carry on the operations that they themselves are capable of. 

The theme was next picked up by Representative Cohelan. He said that "One 
of the things that some of us are quite concerned about is this constant tendency 
toward a sanguine approach to the problem of Southeast Asia." He went on to 
recall that when he and other committee members had been out to South Vietnam 
in November of 1962, when General Harkins was saying the war would be won 
in 2 years and Admiral Felt said it would be won in 3 years — although Halber- 
stam and other newsmen were pessimistic at that time and now seemed, to Repre- 
sentative Cohelan, to have been right 

[material missing] 

transport anything for fear of ambush by ground, although the Vietnamese 
themselves could move the freight by some kind of pay-off to the Viet Cong. 

In response to this the Secretary said that we were in a very different position 
than the French had been and that in this sort of war improvement was bound 
to be slow — a matter of years. But this did not mean we should retain all of our 
existing personnel in South Vietnam. It would be a waste to do so, and by "keep- 
ing the crutch there too long we would weaken the Vietnamese rather than 
strengthen them." 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 37 

Within a day or two after this testimony was given there came the Khanh 
coup, which constituted not only another hard blow to our efforts in Vietnam 
but also to our confidence that we knew what was going on there. The Khanh 
coup of 30 January 1964 came as an almost complete surprise to the mission and 
to Washington. What may be considered in retrospect, but only in retrospect, as 
the first very general danger signal came in the form of a conversation between 
the US/DCM in Saigon and Italian Ambassador D'Orlandi, on 20 January, and 
reported that same evening to Washington. In discussing the current French 
initiative in Asia (recognition of Communist China and advocacy of neutraliza- 
tion of SEA), the Italian Ambassador had said that the greatest danger to the 
U.S. position in Southeast Asia lay in the effect it might have upon certain pro- 
French and potentially neutralist members of the MRC. When asked to clarify, 
D'Orlandi named Generals Tran Van Don and Ton Thap Dinh as potential 
leaders of a group that might accept a French neutralization formula, especially 
if the U.S. position on that issue were not clarified immediately. In reporting the 
incident the Embassy commented it had no hard evidence of either of these two 
flirting with neutralization, although because of French training they were fre- 
quently cited as pro-French. 

A few days later Ambassador Lodge issued a public statement which acknowl- 
edged existence of neutralization rumors and proceeded to affirm that U.S. policy 
remained unchanged and that the U.S., "In solidarity with the Government of 
the Republic of Vietnam, firmly rejects the spurious idea of 'neutralizing' South 
Vietnam since 'neutralization' would simply be another means of Communist 

The first warning of the coup that may be considered specific and definite, 
however, did not come until 28 January, when General Khanh told Colonel 
Jasper Wilson, U.S. Senior MAAG advisor for I Corps, that pro-French, pro- 
neutralist members of the MRC — Generals Xuan, Don, and Kim — were planning 
a palace coup that would take place as early as 31 January. Once the coup was 
effected, they would call for neutralization of South Vietnam. It was not reported 
that in the conversation with Wilson, Khanh had expressly suggested that he 
might try a counter coup action. He did say, however, that he planned to go to 
Saigon that day or on the morrow. In reporting this conversation to Lodge and 
Harkins in Saigon and to CIA/Washington, CAS cited four other recent intelli- 
gence items, from other sources, which might have lent some credence to the 
Khanh allegations (although in the course of time Khanh's allegations were dis- 
counted almost entirely). These were (1) Tran Van Ly gained impression in 
conversation with Xuan that Xuan favored a coup. (2) Lt. Col. Tran Dinh Lam, 
recently brought back from Paris at the request of Generals Tran Van Don and 
Le Van Kim, was reported to have French authorization to spend 2 billion 
piastres to achieve a neutralization of South Vietnam. (3) An American had 
observed several military trucks bringing weapons and ammunition to Xuan's 
police headquarters at Camp DuMare. (4) Generals Kim, Don, Nguyen Van Vy, 
and Duong Van Due had been identified by Major General Le Van Nghiem as 
pro-French and privately in favor of neutralization. Nevertheless, Khanh's 
charges along with other reports were described by CAS as difficult to evaluate; 
and it was speculated that he and others making similar charges might be 
motivated by disgruntlement over failure to obtain better positions for themselves 
within the MRC. 

The next move in this sequence of events was when General Khanh talked to 
Ambassador Lodge in Saigon on the afternoon of 29 January. The striking thing 
is that although Khanh evidently made his intentions clear, the Ambassador's 

38 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

first thought was to protest to DeGaulle rather than to warn the GVN. That 
evening at 8:00 p.m., Ambassador Lodge filed a NODIS (Embtel 1431) suggest- 
ing that representations should be made to DeGaulle against French clandestine 
plotting to upset the GVN and set it thereby upon a neutralist course. General 
Khanh had apparently made an impression on the Ambassador with his allega- 
tions of French machinations, asking for assurance that the U.S. opposed neu- 
tralization and if necessary would help him, Khanh, get his family, then in Da 
Nang, out of the country. He claimed that he had the support of General Khiem 
of III Corps and General Tri of II Corps as well as 90 percent of the army and 
70 percent of the existing government. Lodge further reported that Khanh made 
a special point of wanting to continue to use Colonel Jasper Wilson as his ex- 
clusive contact with the U.S. Khanh refused absolutely to deal with any other 
than Wilson because he had had "an unfortunate experience with a CIA repre- 
sentative named Spera, before the 31 October coup." Lodge went on to say that 
although he had no great faith in Xuan, he believed that Don and Kim were 
patriotic Vietnamese and "therefore, what General Khanh says about them goes 
against my deepest instincts." Lodge sensed the intent of a coup, but evidently 
did not appreciate its imminence; for although he said he expected that there 
would be more to report later, he decided not to alter the government of Vietnam 
and had confided the news from Wilson only to Harkins and DeSilva. 

However, it was a matter of only about seven hours after reporting this first 
Khanh feeler that Lodge at 3:15 a.m. of 30 January (Saigon time) advised 
Secretaries Rusk and McNamara that: 

General Khanh has informed us through his contact, Colonel Jasper Wil- 
son, MAAG advisor I Corps, that he together with General Phat and Khiem 
intend to move at 0400 this morning to secure changes in the composition 
of the MRC. General Khiem states that General Minh has been informed 
of his move and agrees. The only definite statement we have as yet is that 
Premier Tho must go. 

Over the next two or three days Ambassador Lodge altered considerably his 
first opinions about the justification for the coup. The U.S. chose to view the act 
as merely a change of personnel within the same MRC format; and the Ambas- 
sador s first attempt to explain the affair revealed his hope that an effort to put 
a good face on it might not be amiss. (There was little else he could do.) 

Herewith my preliminary assessment of the new Government in Viet Nam. 
It is very much subject to change as we move along. 

L General Khanh's coup was obviously extremely disconcerting at first 
blush. We felt we were beginning to make real progress here with the Minh 
Government — in the conduct of the effort against the Viet Cong; and in 
making General Minh into a popular figure. To overthrow a Government 
which was progressing fairly satisfactorily seemed like a violent and dis- 
orderly procedure . . . 

2. On second thought, however, one realized the Generals Don and Kim 
had never at any time foresworn the possibility of a neutral solution at 
which might seem to them to be the proper time. They had clearly been 
working, and working effectively, to strengthen the effort against the Viet 
Cong. But none of us had ever discussed what the next step would be after 
the Government of Viet Nam had reached a position of strength. Perhaps 
they did favor the French neutrality solution at that time. We had all con- 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 39 

centrated exclusively on winning . . . Finally, Ambassador D'Orlandi of 
Italy, who is one of the shrewdest men here, has thought ever since Novem- 
ber that the Minh Government was actively in support of General De 
Gaulle's ideas and would turn overtly neutralist at the proper time. He had 
said this to me several times and had made much of the fact that both Don 
and Kim were still French citizens, had been aides to Marshal de Lattre 
when he was here, and had actively worked in the French Secret Service in 
the past. Therefore, opinion of the French intentions for neutralization coup 
might be correct . . . 

4. Finally, in this country it rarely occurs to anyone that an election is 
an efficient or appropriate way to get anything important accomplished. The 
traditional way of doing important things here is by well planned, well 
thought out use of force. What General Khanh has done does not appear to 
have shocked the Vietnamese . . . However, numerous Vietnamese have 
expressed the opinion to members of my staff that it was a pity that General 
Minh was removed because he is a "good man." 

5. The real question is, therefore: Is Khanh able? Will he really supply 
some drive in connection with the effort against the Viet Cong? The evidence 
to date is that he is able, that he has a lot of drive, and that he is not 
tolerating any delay . . . 

6. If Khanh is able, his advent to power may give this country one-man 
command in place of a junta. This may be good. We have everything we 
need in Viet Nam. The U.S. has provided military advice, training, equip- 
ment; economic and social help; and political advice. The Government of 
Viet Nam has put relatively large number of good men into important posi- 
tions and has evolved civil and military procedures which appear to be work- 
able. Therefore, our side knows how to do it; we have the means with which 
to do it; we simply need to do it. This requires a tough and ruthless com- 
mander. Perhaps Khanh is it. 

Privately we continued, however, to be deeply chagrined and even shaken that 
we had not seen the coup coming. We recognized it was a severe blow to the 
stability of government that we had believed was so necessary for South Vietnam, 
and we doubted the charges that Khanh used as a justification for his actions. 
But we accepted his explanations, promised to support him, and hoped for the 
best. About all we could do was threaten to withhold aid and that was ineffective 
because it was increasingly apparent that we were as committed to the struggle 
as our clients were — possibly even more committed. Whatever the real possibili- 
ties of influence may have been, we accepted as inescapable the fact that there 
was nothing we could do but go along with it. The President of the United States 
quickly offered his public expression of recognition and strong support. And one 
of our strongest resolves was to see what we might hit upon as a means to assure 
that we would not be taken again by a similar surprise. 


Among the flood of SitReps that came in soon after the coup was "Com- 
mander's Personal Military Assessment of the Fourth Quarter, CY-63." This was 
a report that MACV had been directed to establish at the end of the September 
1963 visit of the Secretary and the CJCS in order to establish checkpoints by 
which to measure progress toward achievement of the goals agreed upon at that 
time. It is not essential here to review all of MACV's report but there are interest- 

40 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/VoL III 

ing details that are worth noting. MACV's report gave central attention to the 
fact that the political turbulence during the last quarter of 1963 had been re- 
flected in a regression in government control, and corresponding opportunities 
for the VC. The political instability had resulted, especially, in a decline of GVN 
control within the 13 provinces listed as critical at Honolulu on 20 November. 
The strategic hamlet program had received setbacks which forced the GVN's 
military forces to adopt a defensive posture. After this there came a somewhat 
equivocal statement that: 

Analysis disclosed that, in spite of political turbulence, a satisfactory 
tempo of operation was maintained during this quarter. On the other hand, 
statistics clearly supported previous convictions that GVN operations were 
not effective when judged by reasonable standards of results versus effort 
expended. The immediate response to this analysis is to focus the advisory 
effort at all levels on the need for radical improvement in the effectiveness 
of operations. 

What this seems to say is that GVN operations were satisfactory by the criteria 
which had been adopted for judging them, yet they did not achieve results. This 
seems to amount to an admission that the criteria by which operations were 
judged did not lead to good judgments concerning the results that were being 
achieved by these operations. 

This appears, indeed, to have been very near the truth. Throughout this report 
there was a recognition of the effect of political and psychological and motiva- 
tional factors upon real and effective capabilities. On the matter of training, the 
assessment was that it had "proven to be quantitatively satisfactory and flexible 
enough to meet the pressures and accelerated time schedules." But this expression 
of satisfaction that the nominal goals of training had been met was followed by 
the qualification that "the degree to which training can, in fact, develop combat 
aggressiveness or compensate for the lack of other motivation remains a matter 
for concern and continuing scrutiny." The anomaly was expressed in words, but 
the fact of it seems to have gone almost unrecognized. 

When he turned to the two major areas of military action, first in the north 
and center and later in the Delta, MACV was obliged to admit that "there was 
little substantial progress toward completing the military progress in either of the 
two major regions." But he seemed to have been so thoroughly imbued with a 
chin-up, never-say-die spirit that he rejected the pessimistic implications which 
he explicitly acknowledged were present. 

If the military aspects of the fourth quarter of calendar year 1963 were 
viewed in isolation, or could in any way be considered typical, the forecast 
would be pessimistic in nature and a complete reappraisal of U.S. effort, 
approach, and even policy would be indicated. However, viewed in the light 
of January operational improvements, the forecast remains one of potential 
long term military progress. 

The improvements cited as grounds for not accepting the pessimistic implica- 
tions were a new military plan to support the pacification program; adoption of 
U.S. advice concerning GVN management to cope with increasing VC threats, 
especially around Saigon; and some government operations that seemed to dem- 
onstrate improved military leadership, and what he called "victories" while ad- 
mitting they were not decisive. The difficulty here was that the judgment did not 
include consideration that these happier signs had come under the regime which 
had just been overturned by the Khanh coup a day or two before this report was 
dispatched, which coup, it was acknowledged, would have a disturbing and dis- 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 41 

ruptive effect upon GVN capabilities as they had existed before the coup. Al- 
though it was still too soon to predict the full impact of the coup, it seemed 
"likely that at least part of the operational momentum which was being slowly 
generated earlier this month will be slowed for a time . . ." 

In closing this assessment, MACV philosophized, in words with which few 
would disagree, that experiences of the last quarter of calendar year 1963 dis- 
closed "the extent to which military opportunities are dependent upon political 
and psychological policies and accomplishments in a counter-insurgency environ- 
ment." And he found the big lesson — "the broad implication" — was, that 

no amount of military effort or capability can compensate for poor politics. 
Therefore, although the prospects for an improved military posture are good, 
the ultimate achievement of the established military goal depends primarily 
upon the quality of support achieved by the political leadership of the gov- 
ernment of Vietnam at all levels. 

Here again was an explicit judgment that the sine qua non of an effective 
counter-insurgency operation was a stable, broadly based, popular and effective 
government. It was acknowledged at this time, as it had been acknowledged 
before concerning other governments, that a government of these qualities did 
not exist. But along with the acknowledgment that what was described as the 
sine qua non did not exist, there was apparently always the hope that fate would 
not close in before something happened to change the situation. 

The U.S. mission Monthly Status Report, dated 9 February 1964, agreed with 
MACV that it was too soon to judge the effects of the Khanh coup. In the "over- 
all evaluation," there was the following key paragraph: 

January witnessed distinct, if limited, progress in GVN's organization and 
action, both on political front in Saigon and on counter-insurgency front in 
countryside. Nevertheless, by January 30, when General Khanh moved 
swiftly and bloodlessly to take over reins of government, GVN had still not 
achieved sufficient momentum either to stem growing tide of popular criti- 
cism against it or to register meaningful gains against VC. In retrospect, 
greatest single positive achievement during three months of post-Diem 
regime was measurable success of General Minh in establishing himself as 
popular national leader. Measure of his success reflected in General Khanh's 
obvious effort to keep Minh on his side and exploit Minh's growing popu- 
larity for benefit of second post-Diem regime. 

On the same day that the Mission Report was dispatched, CIA addressed to 
the Secretary of Defense a special report which had just been received by the 
Director of CIA by Mr. Peer de Silva (CAS station chief in Saigon) and Mr. 
Lyman D. Kirkpatrick, concerning the situation in Vietnam with particular re- 
spect to the conduct of the war and the prognosis of the stability of the Khanh 
regime. The de Silva _[udgment was that 

The situation at this moment must be characterized as one in which the ' 
population at large appears apathetic, without enthusiasm either for the 
GVN or the VC sides but responsive to the latter because it fears the VC. 
The most important single factor appears to be whether or not the rural ! 
population will be willing to defend itself against the VC and to support 
GVN actions against the VC. In this sector there now seems to be less 
conviction and resolution, and a more widespread inclination to avoid the 
problems of opposing the VC, and to play both sides in hopes of somehovsj 
getting on peacefully and without personal commitment. 

42 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

. . . What is needed in this regard and very soon are a series of GVN 
successes in the military sphere which would go toward implanting and 
nourishing a popular attitude that the GVN has the means of bringing 
security and a sense of ease to the rural population and is clearly deter- 
mined to do so on an ever broadening front throughout the countryside. 
Only within some such atmosphere of hopefulness can the will and resolve 
to oppose the VC be strengthened, and it must be if this war is to be won. 

Mr. Kirkpatrick's comment was based upon his recent trip to South Vietnam: 

I agree with the above but must note that even armed with your pessimis- 
tic comments following your last visit, I have been shocked by the number 
of our (CIA) people and of the military, even those whose jobs is always 
to say we are winning, who feel that the tide is against us. Admittedly, this 
is based on a limited number of discussions here and in Danang in three 
days. There are ominous indications that the VC are able to mount larger 
operations than in the past using bigger arms, including antiaircraft. Viet- 
namese government reactions are still slow, defensive and reminiscent of 
French tactics here a decade ago. There are still really no fundamental 
internal security measures of any effectiveness such as identity cards, block 
wardens, travel controls, etc. ... It is evident that a major factor in VC 
victories is their superior intelligence based on nationwide penetrations and 
intimidations at all levels. . . . Finally, with the Laos and Cambodia bor- 
ders opened, this entire pacification effort is like trying to mop the floor 
before turning off the faucet. 

Two days later the Secretary received an advance copy of SNIE 50-64, "Short- 
term Prospects in Southeast Asia." Its leading conclusion was: 

(a) That the situation in South Vietnam is very serious and prospects un- 
certain. Even with U.S. assistance as it is now, we believe that, unless 
there is a marked improvement in the effectiveness of the South Viet- 
namese government and armed forces. South Vietnam has, at best, an 
even chance of withstanding the insurgency menace during the next 
few weeks or months. 

In further explanation of this judgment, it was stated that the situation had been 
serious for a long time and in recent months it had deteriorated further. The 
VC had exploited dislocations caused by the November coup and then more 
recently by the January coup. Just as Minh's reorganization was beginning to be 
established, Khanh's coup upset everything, and Khanh's regime was not yet 
assessable. Meanwhile, the VC had improved in their organization and armament, 
were increasingly aggressive and acting in larger units. 


Thus as winter drew to an end in February-March 1964, it was recognized, 
as it had never been fully recognized before, that the situation in Vietnam was 
deteriorating so rapidly that the dimensions and kinds of effort so far invested 
could not hope to reverse the trend. This was indeed a turning point. The pro- 
posals for neutralization that had been loosely suggested in late fall and early 
winter having been rejected, the issue to be resolved was what kinds of new 
efforts, and what new dimensions of U.S. effort, would be decided upon. One 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 43 

direction of effort which might have been chosen had, as its most articulate 
advocate, the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, Roger Hilsman. 
This was the policy line that, for better or for worse, was largely rejected. Mainly 
because of this policy disagreement, Mr. Hilsman left his post at almost the time 
it became evident that his views were conclusively overruled. At the time of his 
departure he wrote two memos to the Secretary of State (dated 14 March 1964); 
one on the Southeast Asia problem generally, one on South Vietnam. The latter 
of the two affords not only a good summary of his views on the subject, but also 
a statement of the policy alternatives that were, in significant measure, rejected. 
(The rejection was of course by no means total. It was a matter of degree and a 
question of where emphasis should lie among some programs that were not in 
dispute generically. But the matter of degree and emphasis was in dispute, and 
it was sufficient not only to induce Hilsman to resign but to alter drastically the 
course of U.S. involvement.) Hilsman wrote: 

In my judgment, the strategic concept that was developed for South Viet- 
nam remains basically sound. If we can ever manage to have it implemented 
with vigor, the result will be victory. 

The concept is based on the assumption that villages in Southeast Asia 
are turned inward on themselves and have little or no sense of identification 
with either the national government or Communist ideology — that the vil- 
lagers are isolated physically, politically, and psychologically. In such circum- 
stances it is not difficult to develop a guerrilla movement . . . 

A corollary ... is that the villagers' greatest desire is security and that 
if the villagers are given security, some simple progress towards a better life, 
and — most important of all — a sense that the government cares about them 
and their future, they will respond with loyalty . . . 

On the basis of . . . [this] assumption, the strategic concept calls for 
primary emphasis on giving security to the villagers. The tactics are the so- 
called oil-blot approach, starting with a secure area and extending it slowly, 
making sure no Viet Cong pockets are left behind, and using police units to 
winkle out [sic] the Viet Cong agents in each particular village. This calls 
for the use of military forces in a different way from that of orthodox, con- 
ventional war. Rather than chasing Viet Cong, the military must put primary 
emphasis on clear-and-hold operations and on rapid reinforcement of villages 
under attack. It is also important, of course, to keep the Viet Cong regular 
units off balance by conventional offensive operations, but these should be 
secondary to the major task of extending security . . . 

At the heart of this strategic concept are two basic principles: 

The first is that of the oil blot. In the past the GVN sought to blanket the 
whole country with so-called strategic hamlets . . . The result was to 
blanket the Delta with little Dienbienphus — indefensible, inadequately armed 
hamlets far from reinforcements ... In effect these were storage places of 
arms for the Viet Cong which could be seized at any time. After November 
first, the military began to demobilize some of these vulnerable villages . . . 
and a race developed between the government and the Viet Cong. The race 
may have ended in a tie, but . . . the Viet Cong now have much better 
weapons and greater stocks of ammunition than they ever had before. 

The second basic principle is that the way to fight a guerrilla is to adopt the 
tactics of a guerrilla ... In spite of all our pressures, this has never been 
done in Vietnam. Instead, the emphasis has been on large operations . . . 

As to the question of operations against North Vietnam, I would suggest 

44 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

that such operations may at a certain stage be a useful supplement to an 
effective counterinsurgency program, but . . . not be an effective sub- 
stitute . . . 

My own preference would be to continue the covert, or at least deniable 
operations . . . Then, after we had made sufficient progress in the Delta 
so that all concerned began to realize that the Viet Cong were losing the 
support of the population, and that their ability to continue the war de- 
pended solely on North Vietnamese support, I think we should indicate as 
much privately to the North Vietnamese and follow this by selected attacks 
on their infiltration bases and training camps. 

In my judgment, significant action against North Vietnam that is taken 
before we have demonstrated success in our counterinsurgency program will 
be interpreted by the Communists as an act of desperation, and will, there- 
fore, not be effective in persuading the North Vietnamese to cease and desist. 
What is worse, I think that premature action will so alarm our friends and 
allies and a significant segment of domestic opinion that the pressures for 
neutralization will become formidable. 

In sum, I believe that we can win in Vietnam with a number of provisos. 

The first proviso is that we do not over-militarize the war — that we con- 
centrate not on killing Viet Cong . . . but on an effective program for ex- 
tending the areas of security gradually, systematically, and thoroughly . . . 

My second proviso is that there be political stability in Saigon . . . 

Some of the Hilsman recommendations were to be adopted, none rejected out- 
of-hand. The so-called oil blot principle had many adherents, and was in fact 
already coming into vogue. Over the ensuing months, the phrase was much hon- 
ored, though the execution may have faltered. No one disputed the principle that 
the hamlets needed security above all else, nor that everything depended on a 
stable government in Saigon. Nevertheless, emphasis shifted toward greater em- 
phasis on military operations, perhaps for the pressing reason that the VC were 
out now in increasing numbers, with more and better weapons, seeming to invite, 
if not to require, conventional military operations if the VC threatening the 
hamlets were to be destroyed or reduced to powerlessness. And, above all, the 
more elusive the VC were, the stronger they grew, and the more unstable and 
unpopular the GVN became, the more tempting the idea of attacking the north 
seemed to be. 

Much more influential than these Hilsman views were those of the JCS, espe- 
cially as set forth in the memorandum of 18 February 1964 to the SecDef from 
the CJCS: 

1. Reference is made to the memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 
dated 22 January 1964 ... It sets forth a number of actions which the 
United States should be prepared to take in order to ensure victory . . . the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff have reviewed the situation in South Vietnam with the 
view of determining additional actions which can be recommended for im- 
plementation immediately. 

2. The Government of Vietnam has developed, with the close collabora- 
tion of the U.S. Military Assistance Command, a new National Pacification 
Plan which provides for the orderly pacification of the insurgency in ac- 
cordance with a realistic phasing schedule . . . and it provides for con- 
solidation of secure areas and expansion of them (the "spreading oil drop"). 
U.S. military assets in Vietnam will fully support this plan. What is now 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 45 

required is implementation of additional actions which will insure an in- 
tegrated political, socio-economic, and psychological offensive to support 
more fully the military effort. Accordingly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recom- 
mend that the Country Team be directed to implement the following actions 
at the earliest practicable time: 

a. Induce the GVN (General Khanh) military to accept U.S. advisors at 
all levels considered necessary by COMUSMACV. (This is particularly ap- 
plicable in the critical provinces) . . . 

b. Intensify the use of herbicides for crop destruction against identified 
Viet Cong areas as recommended by the GVN. 

c. Improve border control measures . . . 

d. Direct the U.S. civilian agencies involved in Vietnam to assist the GVN 
in producing a civilian counterpart package plan to the GVN National 
Pacification Plan . . . 

e. Provide U.S. civilian advisors to all necessary echelons and GVN 
agencies . . . 

f. Encourage early and effective action to implement a realistic land re- 
form program. 

g. Support the GVN in a policy of tax forgiveness for low income popu- 
lation in areas where the GVN determines that a critical state of insurgency 
exists . . . 

h. Assist the GVN in developing a National Psychological Operations 
Plan ... to establish the GVN and Khanh's "images," create a "cause" 
which can serve as a rallying point for the youth/students of Vietnam, and 
develop the long term national objectives of a free Vietnam. 

i. Intensify efforts to gain support of U.S. news media representatives in 
Washington . . . 

j. Arrange U.S. sponsored trips to Vietnam by groups of prominent jour- 
nalists and editors. 

k. Inform all GVN military and civilian officials . . . that the United 
States (a) considers it imperative that the present government be stabilized, 
(b) would oppose another coup, and (c) that the United States is prepared 
to offer all possible assistance in forming a stable government ... all U.S. 
intelligence agencies and advisors must be alert to and report cases of dis- 
sension and plotting in order to prevent such actions. 

3. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recognize that the implementation of the fore- 
going measures will not be sufficient to exercise a decisive effect on the 
campaign against the Viet Cong. They are continuing study of the actions 
suggested in the memorandum of 22 January 1964, as well as other pro- 
posals . . . Among the subjects to be studied as a matter of urgency are the 

a. Intensified operations against North Vietnam to include air bombings 
of selected targets. 

b. Removal of restrictions for air and ground cross-border operations. 

c. Intelligence and reporting. 

d. U.S. organizational changes. 

e. Increased U.S. Navy participation in shore and river patrol activities. 

f. Introduction of jet aircraft into the Vietnamese Air Force and the U.S. 
Air Commando unit . . . 

Except for 2f, 2g, 2i, 2j, and the escalatory military actions of paragraph 3 
that had been suggested previously by the ICS, this memorandum outlined much 

46 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

of the program that was to be adopted by the SecDef in March after his trip to 
Saigon, and approved by the President thereafter as NSAM 288. 


Before the Secretary left for Vietnam, trip books were prepared for his use and 
the use of others in his official party. In this trip was an appraisal of the Vietnam 
situation, dated 3 March 1964, prepared especially for this occasion by the nor- 
mally optimistic SACSA. It began with this summary: 

The RVN faces the most critical situation in its nearly 10 years of ex- 
istence. This situation is the result of political erosion, culminating in two 
changes of government within three months and in a nationwide revamping 
of civil administrators, and of the continued growth of a well-organized, 
dedicated Communist insurgency movement. 

This was followed by a political discussion wherein there was mention of the 
chronic shortage of competent administrators. The government was credited with 
superior material resources, but, "unless it is able to demonstrate the willpower 
and political skill to bring this potential to bear, the political and security situa- 
tion will continue to deteriorate." It was considered hopeful that Khanh seemed 
determined to provide dynamic leadership, but it was observed that he would 
have to overcome "widespread public and official apathy, lack of confidence, low 
morale, and factionalism among key personnel." 

Khanh's efforts and attributes were catalogued approvingly, but this only led 
to a concluding paragraph as follows: 

Encouraging as Khanh's performance has been to date, he has not been 
able to counteract the overall trend of events in South Vietnam. In many of 
the most critical provinces, pacification programs remain at a virtual stand- 
still and there is an evident lack of urgency and clear direction. 

This was followed by a section entitled "Military and Security Situation." This 
section contained an interesting judgment, which represented a reversal by 
SACSA of opinions expressed six months or more before concerning the time 
when the situation had begun to deteriorate. 

By the final quarter of 1963, the conclusion was inescapable that despite 
the considerable improvement in the offensive capabilities of the RVN's 
counter-insurgency forces, the VC likewise had improved their own capabili- 
ties. It became apparent that a gradual erosion of the government's position 
throughout the country had been underway since at least August 1963. 
This erosion became progressively worse after the November coup, although 
late in January 1964, the Minh government exhibited some signs of assum- 
ing the initiative. This initiative dissolved with the Khanh coup on 30 
January. Organizational dislocations brought about by coups have weakened 
the national direction of most of the counter-insurgency programs under- 
way throughout the country. The large number of personnel changes, both 
locally and nationally, have played a crucial role in the indecision and lack 
of energetic direction of the government's programs. 

Despite General Khanh's expressed determination to prosecute the war 
vigorously, available statistics since his coup reflect a gradual decline in 
small-scale ARVN operations. In addition. Communist forces continue to 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 47 

enjoy the initiative and to execute disruptive operations at times and places 
of their own choosing . . . 

All available evidence points to a steady improvement in the VC's mili- 
tary posture, both quantitatively and qualitatively, throughout 1963 and 
the first two months of 1964 . . . [Emphasis supplied.] 

In advising the Embassy in Saigon of the intended visit of Secretary Mc- 
Namara and General Taylor in March, a Joint State/Defense message out- 
lined the issues that it was hoped would be taken up during the visit. Five major 
subject areas were named, each of which was divided into parts. Objectives were 
described, in general, as "to produce best possible evaluation of situation, assist 
you in measures to improve it, and help Washington make future policy de- 

The first subject area was a Review of Situation, in three parts: political, eco- 
nomic, and military. It was suggested that the political review should be in 
executive session limited to the three principals (McNamara, Lodge and Taylor) 
and the DCM, Harkins, Brent, de Silva, and perhaps Zorthian, The subjects of 
prime interest were how Khanh was taking hold, and the dangers of further 
coups. Next in importance were the effectiveness of the civil administration and 
the morale of major religious and political groups, and measures to strengthen 
and buttress the Khanh regime. On the economic side, the Secretary hoped to get 
a full review of the economy, the budget, price and supply trends, AID opera- 
tions, and, finally, the possibility of land reform and tax forgiveness. On the 
military side, it was suggested they begin with the broad picture, and later pro- 
ceed to selected critical provinces and specific provincial plans. 

The main interest, with respect to intelligence and reporting, was to review 
Country Team recommendations concerning periodic assessments and joint re- 
porting requirements. After this the interest centered on intelligence concerning 
the VC — specifically the extent of their control and activities in the provinces, 
intentions and tactics, and indicators thereof. Then, clearly in anticipation of 
possible requirement for public relations materials for us in U.S.: 

4. Handling of intelligence bearing on control and direction of Viet Cong 
from North Vietnam including infiltration of personnel and weapons and 
operation of communications net. One of our basic projects here is pre- 
paring strongest possible material on this subject for use as appropriate to 
support stronger measures. We need to be sure your intelligence effort is 
geared to furnish such information promptly in usable form. 

5. Review of draft (which we will supply) of control and support of VC 
by North Vietnam. 

Concerning current operational problems, the items foreseen to be of interest 
were policy on possible evacuation of dependents, review of GVN national and 
provincial plans, rural rehabilitation plans, adequacy and deployment of ARVN, 
status and problems of paramilitary forces, current status and possible expansion 
of the U.S. Special Forces' role in connection with Civilian Irregular Defense 
Groups (CIDG), status of plans to reduce or reorganize U.S. forces as GVN 
became capable of performing functions currently performed by U.S., review 
of political and psywar progress, and of military tactics against VC, and "pos- 
sible modification of existing operation [al] restrictions." 

The special third country problems of French activities in RVN, and of 
Cambodia and Laos, would be dealt with in executive session. 

48 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

The last item listed for special consideration was to review Operations Plan 
34A-64, for feasibility, adequacy, and possible expansion, with special con- 
sideration to advantages derivable from making it an overt Vietnamese program 
with participation by U.S. as required to obtain adequate results." 

The language and the tone of this message suggest that, however pessimistic 
may have been the appraisals of the situation, there was no disposition to recog- 
nize any doubt that the struggle could be won or that we would undertake 
whatever measures were necessary to win it. Previously unprecedented escalatory 
measures of a military nature were beginning to be studied tentatively as a 
response to the bad news that kept coming. Most of these were to be rejected, for 
the time being, except for moves to convey to NVN that an exchange of air blows 
between NVN and SVN was a possibility. This, it was hoped, might exploit 
NVN fears that if they persisted aiding the VC they faced the loss of their in- 
dustrial establishment. The inferential significance of our considerations at this 
time seems to have been that we were already committed, by the momentum 
of our past actions, to a course which forbade turning back, however reluctant 
we might be about taking any forward step. 

A schedule for the trip was set up extending from the planned arrival on 8 
March 1964 through 12 March. In the course of five days of briefings, con- 
ferences, and field trips, most of the details of a program, to implement policies 
already evidently largely agreed upon, were decided upon in the light of views 
and information elicited from our own and GVN officials. In the final meeting 
with General Khanh and his GVN associates, most of the programs for Vietnam 
which were later to be recommended to the President by Secretary McNamara 
were discussed. The exchange of views at that time was made a matter of record 
by a memcon, a summary of which was transmitted the next day by Ambassador 

General Khanh . . . proposed National Service Act for SVN. Khanh 
said his government prepared embark upon program to mobilize all human 
and material resources to fight VC. As envisaged by General Khanh pro- 
posed National Service Act would have two major components: military 
service and civil defense . . . 

Military service comprised of: RVNAF . . . (actual strength: 227,000; 
planned: 251,683); Civil Guard (actual: 90,032; planned: 119,636). SDC 
& Hamlet Militia . . . (actual: 257,960; planned: 422,874). Civil Defense 
comprised of Civil Service Corps, Cadre Corps, National Youth, and Po- 
litical-Administration Corps . . . 

Civil Defense component included Civil Administration Corps for work 
in countryside. Khanh emphasized that in civil defense sector all civilians 
would be included . . . 

Khanh emphasized figures were planning figures only and designed give 
idea of number of military and civilians required and indicate financial 
implications of plan . . . 

McNamara stated that U.S. . . . would wish to study strength figures 
carefully; however, his first impression was that figure of 422,874 SDC and 
Hamlet Militia appeared unduly large and would be difficult to support. 
Khanh responded that in actual practice total numbers may not reach this 
level. In fact, number may not exceed 300,000 SDC and Hamlet Militia 
actually deployed against VC . . . 

Thieu stated that all men from age 18 through 40 would be required 
to participate in national pacification effort. Most of them . . . would 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 49 

serve in same positions they now occupy. Others, such as National Youth 
Group up to age 40, would be required serve in city and countryside and 
would be organized into small groups to assist ARVN and Civil Guard. 
Category of Political-Administration Corps would consist of cadres planned 
for assignment to villages and hamlets. General Thieu estimated that 125,- 
000 such cadre would be required . . . McNamara stated that general 
approach appeared excellent but he questioned whether GVN would need 
125,000 cadre . . . This number added to total figures for Civil Guard, 
SDC and Hamlet Militia, constituted an extremely large figure . . . popu- 
lation appeared disproportionate . . . desirable to look most closely at 
planning figures. 

Khanh replied that he intended make maximum effort in first instance in 
8 critical provinces surrounding Saigon . . . However, a National Service 
Act would have a very good effect in Saigon and the other urban areas. 

McNamara inquired whether upon his return to Washington he could 
tell President Johnson that General Khanh's government was prepared 
embark on a program of national mobilization of human and material re- 
sources and whether President Johnson in turn could inform the American 
people . . . Khanh replied in the affirmative . . . McNamara indicated 
that he viewed concept favorably and . . . Ambassador stated that he 
favored general concept but thought that detailed figures should be looked 
into carefully. Ambassador also believed that emphasis should be placed 
first on 8 critical provinces surrounding Saigon . . . 

General Harkins noted that a mobilization law was in fact in existence 
but that few people know about it. He pointed out that ARVN, CG and 
SDC were not up to their authorized military strengths. Khanh said that 
he realized this but believed it still desirable to have a new law setting 
forth a national service or mobilization program. Harkins stated that 
MACV and other elements of U.S. Mission would like to work closely 
with Khanh ... in developing such a law. Khanh replied this well under- 
stood. McNamara said it was agreed on American side that general concept 
was a wise one and that we should proceed on this basis. 

Khanh then inquired whether it was desirable to raise CG to same rela- 
tive status as ARVN as regards salary, pensions, survivors benefits, etc. 
He estimated that total cost would be in neighborhood of one billion 
piasters. McNamara thought this was highly desirable . . . 

McNamara inquired how long ... it would take to recruit and train 
administrative cadre for 8 critical provinces near Saigon. Khanh estimated 
approximately one month, in any event he believed cadres could be in 
place by end of April. Khanh said GVN would aim for volunteers for this 
effort and it was not necessary to await promulgation of National Service 

In response Taylor's question as to how long Khanh anticipated it would 
take to draft and promulgate National Service Law, Khanh observed that 
. . . law could be ready for his signature in very short time. Taylor pointed 
to necessity give due regard to democratic forms in developing and an- 
nouncing a National Service Act. Khanh agreed and said that at same 
time a major effort was being made to pacify the countryside. He intended 
push for concurrent development of democratic institutions and forms. 
McNamara suggested that when Khanh ready announce a National Service 
Act that he also re-emphasize related actions . . . such as those for ex- 
pansion of national economy, for increased educational opportunities in 

50 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. HI 

hamlets, for increased production of rice, for marketing of fish, and so 
forth. McNamara beheved a well publicized announcement of this nature 
would find ready response among people and would materially assist Khanh 
to obtain and hold support of Vietnamese people. . . . 

I. NSAM-288 

The program formulated in March 1964 in connection with the trip to Viet- 
nam was reported orally to the President by the Secretary of Defense and the 
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs on their return, then presented formally to the 
President and the NSC by memorandum to the President dated 16 March. 
IDoc. 54] It was finally approved as NSAM 288 dated 17 March 1964. As such 
NSC documents go, NSAM 288 was comprehensive and programmatic. It re- 
viewed U.S. objectives, appraised the situation, discussed various alternative 
courses of action, and finally recommended a rather detailed program intended 
to serve the defined objectives and to meet the situation as it had been described. 
It consisted of seven parts. The first was a discussion and definition of objectives, 
the second a description of U.S. policy, the third an appraisal of the present 
situation, the fourth a discussion of alternative courses of action, the fifth a 
consideration of possible actions, the sixth a mention of other actions considered 
but rejected, and seventh and last, a statement of specific recommendations. 

NSAM 288, being based on the official recognition that the situation in Viet- 
nam was considerably worse than had been realized at the time of the adoption 
of NSAM 273, outlined a program that called for considerable enlargement of 
U.S. effort. It involved an assumption by the United States of a greater part of 
the task, and an increased involvement by the United States in the internal affairs 
of South Vietnam, and for these reasons it carried with it an enlarged commit- 
ment of U.S. prestige to the success of our effort in that area. 

In tacit acknowledgement that this greater commitment of prestige called for 
an enlargement of stated objectives, NSAM 288 did indeed enlarge these ob- 
jectives. Whereas, in NSAM 273 the objectives were expressly limited to helping 
the government of South Vietnam win its contest against an externally directed 
Communist conspiracy, NSAM 288 escalated the objectives into a defense of 
all of Southeast Asia and the West Pacific and redefined American foreign policy 
and American security generally. In NSAM 273 the statement of objectives was 
comparatively simple and limited: 

It remains the central object of the United States in South Vietnam to 
assist the people and the government of that country to win their contest 
against the externally directed and supported Communist conspiracy. The 
test of all U.S. decisions and actions in this area should be the effectiveness 
of their contribution to this purpose. 

In contrast to this, the statement of "U.S. Objectives in South Vietnam" in 
NSAM 288 was considerably more extensive and more central to U.S. security 

We seek an independent non-Communist South Vietnam. We do not 
require that it serve as a Western base or as a member of a Western alliance. 
South Vietnam must be free, however, to accept outside assistance as 
required to maintain its security. This assistance should be able to take the 
form not only of economic and social measures but also police and military 
help to root out and control insurgent elements. 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 51 

Unless we can achieve this objective in South Vietnam, almost all of 
Southeast Asia will probably fall under Communist dominance (all of 
Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia), accommodate to Communism so as to 
remove effective U.S. and anti-Communist influence (Burma), or fall under 
the domination of forces not now explicitly Communist but likely then to 
become so (Indonesia taking over Malaysia). Thailand might hold for 
a period without help, but would be under grave pressure. Even the Philip- 
pines would become shaky, and the threat to India on the West, Australia 
and New Zealand to the South, and Taiwan, Korea, and Japan to the North 
and East would be greatly increased. 

All of these consequences would probably have been true even if the 
U.S. had not since 1954, and especially since 1961, become so heavily en- 
gaged in South Vietnam. However, that fact accentuates the impact of a 
Communist South Vietnam not only in Asia but in the rest of the world, 
where the South Vietnam conflict is regarded as a test case of U.S. capacity 
to help a nation to meet the Communist "war of liberation." 

Thus, purely in terms of foreign policy, the stakes are high . . . 

The argument in the next to last paragraph of NSAM 288 that "all these con- 
sequences would probably have been true even if the U.S. had not since 1954, 
and especially since 1961, become so heavily engaged in SVN" is clearly de- 
batable. But the logic that the increasing U.S. involvement led to increasing com- 
mitment of U.S. prestige is probably beyond argument. And it is probably also 
true that, in the extent to which we defined the issues simply and centrally as a 
symbolic confrontation with Communism, wherein far more is at stake than 
the immediate battlefield (in South Vietnam) on which we fought — and acted 
upon this definition and proclaimed it as the issue — we tended more and more 
to endow the issue with that significance whether or not it had in fact been the 
issue in the first place. And this point, if closely examined, might logically have 
raised the question of whether it is absolutely necessary to accept any challenge 
put to us, and if so what advantage this confers upon our enemies in granting 
them the choice of issue and of battleground. Finally, a struggle so defined came 
close to calling for war a outrance — not the centrally political war, with 
severe restriction upon violent means, following counter-guerrilla warfare theory. 

Despite the encompassing nature of the definition of objectives, and although 
NSAM 288 proposed a marked increase in U.S. involvement, our implementing 
programs remained comparatively limited as if we did not fully believe these 
strong words. We even expressed agreement with the older idea of helping the 
Vietnamese help themselvs. 

We are now trying to help South Vietnam defeat the Viet Cong, supported 
from the North, by means short of the unqualified use of U.S. combat 
forces. We are not acting against North Vietnam except by a modest 
"covert" program operated by South Vietnamese (and a few Chinese Na- 
tionalists) — a program so limited that it is unlikely to have any significant 
effect . . . 

There was a further statement of this older policy theme: 

There were and are some sound reasons for the limits imposed by the 
present policy — the South Vietnamese must win their own fight; U.S. inter- 
vention on a larger scale, and/or GVN actions against the North, would 

52 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

disturb key allies and other nations; etc. In any case, it is vital that we con- 
tinue to take every reasonable measure to assure success in South Vietnam. 
The policy choice is not an "either/or" between this course of action and 
possible pressures against the North; the former is essential and without 
regard to our decision with respect to the latter. The latter can, at best, 
only reinforce the former. 

At the end of this section, which described measures that we would take to 
assist the Khanh government in administering internal programs, there was a 
final admonition: 

Many of the actions described in the succeeding paragraphs fit right 
into the framework of the [Pacification] plan as announced by Khanh. 
Wherever possible, we should tie our urgings of such actions to Khanh's 
own formulation of them, so that he will be carrying out a Vietnamese plan 
and not one imposed by the United States. [Emphasis supplied] 

The discussion of the situation in Vietnam began with the statement that 
the military tools and concepts that had been adopted were sound and adequate. 
But much needed to be done in terms of a more effective employment both of 
military forces and of the economic and civic action means already available. 
This improved effort might require some selective increases in the U.S. presence. 
These increases were not considered to be necessarily major in nature and not in 
contradiction to "the U.S. policy of reducing existing military personnel where 
South Vietnamese are in a position to assume the functions . . ." 

No major reductions of U.S. personnel in the near future were expected, but 
it continued to be the basic policy that there would be gradual U.S. withdrawal 
from participation. This was considered to be sound because of its effect "in 
portraying to the U.S. and the world that we continue to regard the war as a 
conflict the South Vietnamese must win and take ultimate responsibility for." 
And along this line there was the continued hope that "substantial reductions in 
the numbers of U.S. military training personnel should be possible before the 
end of 1965. (The language here suggested a beginning retreat from NSAM 

It was conceded, however, that "the situation has unquestionably been grow- 
ing worse, at least since September . . ." Forty percent of the territory was 
then under the Viet Cong control or predominant influence, and twenty-two 
of the forty-three provinces were controlled fifty percent or more by the Viet 
Cong. Other indications of the continuing deterioration were that large groups 
of the population displayed signs of apathy and indifference, while frustration 
was evident within the U.S. contingent. Desertion rates within the ARVN and 
the Vietnamese paramilitary were particularly high and increasing — especially 
in the latter. Draft-dodging was high; but the Viet Cong were recruiting ener- 
getically and effectively. The morale of the hamlet militia and of the SDC, upon 
which the security of the hamlets depended, was poor and falling. The position 
of the government within the provinces was weakening. 

The machinery of political control extending from Saigon down to the 
hamlets had virtually disappeared following the November coup. Of forty-one 
incumbent province chiefs on November 1, thirty-five had been replaced. Nine 
provinces had had three province chiefs in three months, and one province had 
had four. Lesser officials had been replaced by the score. Almost all major mili- 
tary commands had changed hands twice since the November coup and the 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 53 

faith of the peasants had been shaken by disruptions in experienced leadership 
and loss of physical security. 

There was an increase in North Vietnamese support, and communication 
between Hanoi and the Viet Cong had increased. CHICOM 75 millimeter re- 
coilless rifles and heavy machine guns were increasingly in evidence among the 
Viet Cong. 

The greatest source of weakness in the present situation was the uncertain 
viability of the Khanh government. The greatest need, therefore, was to do the 
things that would enhance the stability of that government, and at the same time 
provide the advice and assistance that was necessary to increase its capabilities 
to deal with the problems confronting it. 

Among the alternatives considered, but rejected for the time being (along 
with complete adoption of the Hilsman formulations), were overt military pres- 
sure on North Vietnam, neutralization, return of U.S. dependents, furnishing of 
a U.S. combat unit to secure the Saigon area, and a full takeover of the com- 
mand in South Vietnam by the U.S. With respect to this last proposal, it was said 

. . . the judgement of all senior people in Saigon, with which we concur, 
was that the possible military advantages of such action would be far out- 
weighed by adverse psychological impact. It would cut across the whole 
basic picture of the Vietnamese winning their own war and lay us wide 
open to hostile propaganda both within South Vietnam and outside. 

The areas of action that were favored and that formed the basis of the specific 
recommendations to which the paper led, fell under two major and two minor 
headings. The two major headings were, ( 1 ) civil and military mobilization and 
(2) improvement of military forces. The two minor headings were (1) addi- 
tional military equipment for the GVN and (2) economic actions. 

The first point under civil and military mobilization was to put the whole 
country on a war footing. The purpose was to maintain and strengthen the 
armed forces, to assist other national efforts, and to remedy the recognized 
inequities and under-utilization of current manpower policies. Specifically, there 
was proposed a new national mobilization plan including a national service 
law, which was to be developed on an urgent basis by the Country Team in 
collaboration with the Khanh Government. To this end the third of the several 
recommendations at the conclusion of the report called for the U.S. to "sup- 
port a program of national mobilization (including a national service law) to 
put South Vietnam on a war footing." 

A second measure under this heading was to strengthen the armed forces, both 
regular and paramilitary by at least 50,000 men. Of these, about 15,000 would 
be required to fill the regular armed forces (ARVN) to their current authorized 
strength, 5,000 would be needed to fill the existing paramilitary forces to their 
authorized strengths, and the remaining 30,000 would be to increase the strength 
of the paramilitary forces. To this end it was specifically recommended that the 
U.S. "assist the Vietnamese to increase the armed forces (regular plus para- 
military) by at least 50,000 men." 

The third measure of mobilization was to assist in an increase of the civil 
administrative corps of Vietnam by an additional 7,500 in 1964, with the ulti- 
mate target of at least 40,000 men for service in 8,000 hamlets and 2,500 
villages, and in 3 provincial centers. It was specified that in accomplishing this 
the United States should work with the GVN to devise necessary recruiting 
plans, training facilities, financing methods and organizational arrangements. 

54 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

and should furnish training personnel at once under the auspices of the AID 
mission. The specific recommendation was "to assist the Vietnamese to create 
a greatly enlarged civil administrative corps for work at province, district and 
hamlet levels." 

The improvement of SVN military forces was to be accomplished not only 
by the increase in numbers specified above, but also by internal reforms and 
organizational improvements. What remained of the current hamlet militia and 
related forces of part-time nature for hamlet defense should be consolidated 
with the self-defense corps into a single force which would be compensated 
by the national government. The pay and collateral benefits of the paramilitary 
groups should be substantially improved. Strength of the forces should be main- 
tained and expanded by effectively enforced conscription measures and by more 
centrally directed recruitment policies. It was recommended that U.S. personnel 
should be assigned to the training of the paramilitary forces. The National Police 
required further special consideration. An offensive guerrilla force should be 
created to operate along the border and in areas where VC control was dominant. 
These measures were included in specific recommendations to "assist the Viet- 
namese to improve and reorganize the paramilitary forces and to increase their 
compensation" and "to assist the Vietnamese to create an offensive guerrilla 

Under the last two headings there were recommendations to provide the 
Vietnamese Air Force with 25 A-IH aircraft in exchange for their T-28s and 
to provide the Vietnamese Army additional M-113 APCs (withdrawing the 
M-114s there) and also to provide additional river boats and approximately 5 
to 10 million dollars worth of related additional materiel. A fertilizer program 
to increase the production of rice in areas safely controlled by the government 
was to be expanded and announced very soon. 

Although VC successes in rural areas had been the prime feature of the 
downswing over the past half year or more, pacification was to receive less com- 
parative emphasis, in fact, in the next year or so than it had before. Neverthe- 
less, Khanh's statement of a pacification strategy — which was later to form a 
conceptual basis for the ill-fated Hop Tac program — was approved in principle, 
and a critique of it was accorded a place as Annex B of NSAM 288. 

In simplified outline, the plan was based on a "clear and hold" concept, includ- 
ing for each area these steps: 

1. Clearing organized VC units from the area by military action; 

2. Establishing permanent security for the area by the Civil Guard, Self 
Defense Corps, hamlet militia, and national police; 

3. Rooting out the VC "infrastructure" in the hamlets (particularly the VC 
tax collector and the chief of the VC political cadre); 

4. Providing the elements of economic and social progress for the people of 
the area: schools, health services, water supply, agricultural improvements, etc. 

These general ideas were to be (1) adapted and applied flexibly . . . (2) 
applied under the clear, undivided and decentralized control of the province 
chief; and (3) applied in a gradually spreading area moving from secure to less 
secure areas and from more populated to less populated areas (the "oil drop" 
principle) . . . 

The major requirements for success of the Pacification Plan were: 

First, and of by far the greatest importance, clear, strong, and continuous 

political leadership . . . 

General Khanh and his top colleagues were to supply this requirement. Their 

ability to do so was as yet untested, but some early evidence was good . . . 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 55 

A second major requirement for success of the Pacification Plan was the 
adoption of government poHcies which would give greater promise of economic 
progress and greater incentives to rural people. The three key areas were: 

— the price of rice to farmers, which was artifically depressed and held sub- 
stantially below the world market price; 

— uncertain or oppressive tenure conditions for many farmers (a land reform 
program was half completed some years ago); the VC had been exploiting the 
situation very effectively; 

— oppressive marketing conditions for fishermen (fisheries accounted for 25 
per cent of the rural product of SVN). 

General Khanh's initial statement about the land reform problem was not 
very encouraging; Mr. Oanh was not even aware of the rice problem until a 
conversation with U.S. visitors on March 10th. 

A third major requirement for success of the Pacification Plan was to improve 
greatly the leadership, pay, training, and numbers of some of the kinds of 
personnel needed, notably: 

— pay and allowances for Civil Guards and S.D.C. . . . 

— recruitment and training for more civilian technicians . . . also increased 
pay and supporting costs for them; and recruitment and training of a new 
kind of rural worker — "hamlet action teams" — to move into newly cleared ham- 
lets and start improvement programs . . . 

The real problems were managerial: to develop concepts, training schools, 
action programs, and above all, leadership at the provincial level and below. 

Other requirements for success of the Pacification Plan included: improvement 
in the leadership and attitudes of the ARVN particularly at levels which came 
into contact with villagers; greatly increased military civic action programs by 
the ARVN; much more flexibility and decentralization of authority in the 
administration of GVN civilian agencies; and a far clearer and more consistent 
pattern of rewarding excellence and penalizing poor performance in the man- 
agement of both military and civilian agencies of the GVN. 

Finally, there was one predominant recommendation (it was in fact the second 
of twelve) : that the U.S. "make it clear that we fully support the Khanh gov- 
ernment and are opposed to any further coups." This reflected our deep con- 
cern over the political instability and our dismay at having been surprised by 
the Khanh coup at the end of January. 

An immediate measure to provide this kind of support to Khanh was the 
issuance on the following day (17 March) of a White House release which gave 
Presidential public blessing to the Khanh regime, saying in part that, to meet 
the difficulties and setbacks that had arisen since last October, "General Khanh 
and his government are acting vigorously and effectively . . . [having] produced 
a sound central plan for the prosecution of the war, recognizing to a far greater 
degree than before the crucial role of economic and social, as well as military 
action . . ." 

This statement helped to solidify the Khanh regime by giving it explicit assur- 
ance of continuing U.S. support. It did not fully take care of our dismay over 
the surprise that the Khanh coup had been, and our fear that such a coup 
might be repeated. In addition to making it clear that we fully supported the 
incumbent regime, therefore, it seemed necessary that we should discourage 
attempted coups, or, getting wind of them, head them off before they passed 
the point of no return. On 18 March, W. H. Sullivan of State sent out a message 
to Saigon as follows: 

56 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

Point 2 ... [of NSAM 288] stipulated that U.S. government agencies 
should make clear our full support for Khanh government and our opposi- 
tion to any further coups. While it is recognized that our chances of de- 
tecting coup plotting are far from fool-proof ... all elements [of] U.S. 
mission in Vietnam should be alerted against coup contingencies. 

Mission should establish appropriate procedure which will assure that 
all rumors of coup plotting which come to attention [of] any U.S. govern- 
- ment personnel in Vietnam will be brought to attention of Ambassador 
without delay. This is not, repeat not, a responsibility solely for intelligence 
elements [of the] U.S. mission. 

The program embodied in NSAM 288 was by no means judged adequate by 
all concerned. One major dissent had been registered by the ICS, who tended 
to view the problem primarily in its military dimensions, and who believed that 
the source of VC strength in the North must be neutralized. In a memorandum 
dated 14 March 1964, the CJCS had provided the Secretary of Defense with 
comments on the SecDefs draft memo to the President (NSAM 288). The gen- 
eral view of the JCS was that the program being recommended by the Secretary 
of Defense was inadequate militarily, and that much more aggressive policies, 
mainly against NVN, but also against the Cambodian sanctuaries of VC forces, 
were necessary. 

a. The JCS do not believe that the recommended program in itself will 
be sufficient to turn the tide against the Viet Cong in SVN without positive 
action being taken against the Hanoi government at an early date. They 
have in mind the conduct of the kind of program designed to bring about 
cessation of DRV support for operations in SVN and Laos outlined in 
JCSM-174-64, subject "Vietnam," dated 2 March 1964. Such a program 
would not only deter the aggressive actions of the DRV but would be a 
source of encouragement to SVN which should significantly facilitate the 
counterinsurgency program in that country. To increase our readiness for 
such actions, the U.S. Government should establish at once the political 
and military bases in the U.S. and SVN for offensive actions against the 
North and across the Laotian and Cambodian borders, including measures 
for the control of contraband traffic on the Mekong. 

b. In view of the current attitude of the Sihanouk Government in Cam- 
bodia, the JCS recommend authorizing now hot pursuit into that coun- 
try .. . 

As already noted, however, this sort of escalation had already been rejected 
for the time being. And in any event, there were both a new regime in Vietnam 
and an enlarged program of U.S. aid to support it, although not as enlarged 
militarily, as the JCS would wish. (That form of enlargement would not come 
until later.) But it was the first program since 1961 enlarged in explicit recogni- 
tion that the programs preceding it had not succeeded, had indeed fallen far 
short of their goals. And in that sense at least it was the end of one period and 
the beginning of another. 



In enunciating the policies of NSAM-288 we had rhetorically committed our- 
selves to do whatever was needed to achieve our stated objectives in South 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 57 

Vietnam, The program decided upon and spelled out in NSAM-288 reflected 
our recognition that the problem was greater than we had previously supposed 
and that the progress that we had previously thought we were making was more 
apparent than real. The program constituted a larger effort than we had under- 
taken before; it corresponded to our increased estimates of the magnitude of 
the task before us. Nevertheless, we might have chosen to do more along the 
lines of what we did decide to do, and above all we might have chosen to do 
some things that we specifically chose not to do at this time (although we 
began to plan for some of these on a contingency basis). If there were to be 
new or greater problems in the future it was because we did not correctly ap- 
praise the magnitude of the problem nor fully foresee the complexity of the diffi- 
culties we faced. There were indeed some who believed that the program we 
decided upon was not enough, notably the JCS who had gone on record that 
until aid to the VC from outside of South Vietnam was cut off, it would be 
impossible to eliminate the insurgency there. But the program as decided upon in 
288 did correspond to the official consensus that this was a prescription suited 
to the illness as we diagnosed it. 

There were many inhibitions that discouraged doing more than the bare neces- 
sity to get the job done. There inhibitions related to the image of the U.S. in 
world affairs, to possible risks of over-action from the Communist side, to 
internal American hesitancies about our operations there, and finally to a philoso- 
phy concerning the basic social nature of what was happening in Vietnam and 
how wise it was for the U.S. to become very deeply involved. We had given 
serious thought to a program of pressures upon the North, largely covert and 
intended more to persuade them to compel. This was on the theory that the heart 
of the problem really lay not in South Vietnam but in North Vietnam. But these 
measures, although far from forgotten, were put on the shelf in the belief, or 
at least the hope, that they would not be needed. 

The long year from March 1964 to April 1965 is divisible into three periods 
that correspond to major modifications or reformulations of policy. The first 
would be from March (NSAM-288) to the Tonkin Gulf affair in early August 
1964, the second would be from August 1964 to February of 1965, and the 
third would be from February to April 1965. 

From March to August 1965 we tried to make a go of it with the program 
approved in NSAM-288, in hope that that program would carry us toward our 
objectives by increasing the amount of aid and advice we gave to the South Viet- 
namese in order to enable them better to help themselves. But almost from the 
beginning there were signs that this program would not be enough. And as time 
passed it became more and more evident that something more would be needed. 
Soon we began to be turned from full concentration upon the NSAM-288 pro- 
gram by a major distraction — instability and inefficiency of the GVN. This was 
a distraction that from the first we had feared but had hoped against hope 
would not grow to major proportions. 

A year before, in 1963, it had become more and more evident as time wore 
on that the unpopularity and inefficiencies of the Diem-Ngu regime destroyed 
the hope of permanent progress in the pacification program and the ultimate 
chance of success of the whole counter-insurgency effort. This time it was the 
increasing instability of the Khanh regime and the inefficiency of his govern- 
ment — the regime that had supplanted the regime that had suupplanted Diem 
and Ngu. Now we feared the inability of the Khanh government to attract 
and hold the loyalties of the politically active groups within the cities, and we 
had no confidence in its competence to administer the pacification programs, 

58 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

and thereby win the support of the politically inert peasantry in the rural areas. 

But we wanted no more coups. Although Khanh's coup had surprised us 
and even shaken our confidence somewhat, we quickly made him our boy, put 
the best possible face on the matter, and made it a prime element of U.S. policy 
to support Khanh and his colleagues, and discourage any further coups. Each 
coup that occurred, it seemed, greatly increased the possibility of yet another 

Through the first period from March until July, we concentrated upon 
making the NSAM-288 program work. In addition to the increases in U.S. aid 
and advice, we sought to strengthen Khanh by patching things up with Big Minh 
and mollifying the other Generals he had thrown out. We hoped he could some- 
how subdue the politically active Buddhists, the Catholic political activists, the 
Dai Viet, and the miscellaneous ambitious colonels and generals. 

But execution of the 288 program began to fall behind the plans. The GVN 
administration of the program had troubles. There were troubles getting piastres 
— which the U.S. government in effect provided — from the central government 
to the provinces and districts where they were needed. Agreed pay increases and 
force increases in the GVN armed forces were only tardily and partially met. 
Civil servants needed to operate the program in the provinces and districts 
were not available, were not trained, or, if available and trained, were often not 
paid, or were insufficiently or tardily paid, or were not provided with necessary 
expenses. Funds for the provision of necessary goods in the provinces and dis- 
tricts were not met. Payments to peasants for relocation as a part of the pacifica- 
tion program were tardy or inadequate or not made at all. There seemed to be 
a business as usual attitude in the central government, and the strength of the 
RVNAF declined. Viet Cong depredations continued and pacification efforts fell 

As we pressured Khanh to adopt reforms to remedy the deficiencies of the 
GVN administration of programs within South Vietnam, his frustrations over 
these difficulties and failures were increased. He had no taste for the long, un- 
spectacular social reform and social rebuilding that were the tasks of pacification. 
He soon began to talk increasingly of a scapegoat — a march to the North. He 
wanted to get the struggle over with. This corresponded to the means that we 
had considered but had for the time being rejected — seeking escape from our 
own frustrations in South Vietnam by pressure on the North. We moved gradu- 
ally in this direction, impelled almost inevitably to ultimate actions of this sort, 
but always reluctantly and always hesitant to commit ourselves to more than 
very minor moves, until suddenly and dramatically the Tonkin Gulf affair of 
early August provided an occasion to make a move of the sort we had long been 
anticipating but had until then always deferred. But during this period the debate 
over possible measures of this sort, and the instability of the Khanh government, 
increasingly distracted attention from programs focussed directly on the problems 
of pacification and of winning the loyalties of the Vietnamese for the GVN. 

In the immediate aftermath of the Tonkin Gulf affair, Khanh, feeling his posi- 
tion strengthened, took ill advised measures to consolidate the gains that he 
believed had been made thereby, and quickly precipitated an overriding govern- 
mental crisis. Thereafter, the stability of the regime became the dominant factor 
in all considerations. Atttention had to shift from pacification of the millions of 
rural Vietnamese, who made up the vast majority of the people, to the very few 
in Saigon, Hue and Danang who were struggling for power. 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 59 


Recommendation #13 of NSAM — 288 was "to support a program for national 
mobilization (including a national service law) to put South Vietnam on a war 
footing." Responsibility for this was shared between ASD/ISA and AID. 

A first step was taken on 20 March when the country team was asked to 
report on the status of GVN plans and also country team views concerning the 
adoption of a national service act. The points of greatest concern were what 
would be the main provisions of the act, and what would be the administrative 
machinery set up to implement it. The Country Team was also advised that 
economic mobiHzation measures should be deferred until after a joint U.S.- 
GVN survey had been completed. 

On 1 April Ambassador Lodge replied, with MACV concurrence, that Premier 
Khanh planned two categories of mobilization, one civil and one military. The 
Ambassador said that proposed decrees had been prepared and that if promul- 
gated they would give the GVN adequate power. Details were not included, 
however, in the Ambassador's report. The Ambassador proposed, on a personal 
basis, that, if Washington approved, he would try to persuade Khanh to proceed 
with a mass media presentation of it. Washington agreement to the Embassy 
evaluation came three days later, although only the general concept had been 
explained. On that same day, 4 April 1964, Khanh publicly proclaimed a basic 
decree prescribing broad categories of national service. Its main terms were that 
all able-bodied males ages 20-45 were subject to national public service. This 
national public service was to consist of either (a) military service or (b) civil 
defense service. 

This initial decree of 4 April 1964 amounted evidently to nothing more than 
a statement of intention by the Prime Minister. This was quite short of a law 
that would go into efl:ect, be administered and thereby made to accomplish some- 

On 10 April, the Embassy was informed by a telegram from State that Khanh's 
decrees had received little publicity in the United States, and the Embassy was 
asked for a text of the implementing decrees. Five days later on 15 April 1964, 
Ambassador Lodge reported in more detail on the basic terms of the national 
public service decree, to wit: 

(1) All able-bodied males 20-45 would be subject to national public 
service and females would be permitted to volunteer. 

(2) National public service would consist of either military service or 
civil defense service. 

(3) Civil defense service would be managed by the Ministry of In- 

(4) The duration of military service would be three years of RVNAF 
or four years in Regional Forces (Civil Guard) and Popular Forces 
(Civil Defense Corps and Hamlet Militia). 

(5) Call-up priority would be based on age and number of dependents. 

(6) Drafted personnel were to be paid by the force to which they were 

This came closer to a law to be administered, but on 28 April Washington 
told the Embassy that the status of implementation of the recommendations was 

60 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/VoL III 

still not clear. Four days later, on 2 May, Ambassador Lodge reported that draft 
decrees were still not signed in fact, and that the final nature of the Civil De- 
fense Decree was still in doubt. However, he reported agreement on the principle 
that the objectives of the National Mobilization Plan should give priority to: 
(1) bringing the armed forces to authorized strength, (2) improving their 
morale, (3) carrying out conscription more effectively, and (4) obtaining quali- 
fied civilian workers. 

Before he was able to make this report of 2 May, however, Ambassador Lodge 
had a showdown meeting with Khanh over the failure of the GVN to carry 
out many of the necessary actions called for by the NSAM-288 programs. On 
30 April, accompanied by Westmoreland and Brent (USOM chief). Lodge met 
with Khanh, Oanh, Khien, and Thieu, to discuss the GVN failure to provide 
operating funds to provincial and lower local levels, and to correct manpower 

Lodge opened the meeting with a prepared statement which he read in French. 
He said that direct observation by U.S. provincial advisors throughout Vietnam 
proved that nowhere was there an adequate effort to provide piastres to Corps, 
Division and sectors, to increase the pay of ARVN and paramilitary forces, to 
bring these troops to authorized strength, to recruit added forces, or to com- 
pensate incapacitated soldiers or families of those killed. In fact, he said, there 
were confirmed reports from Corps and Division headquarters of deceased sol- 
diers being kept on the roles as the only means of compensating their families 
and preventing further deterioration of ARVN and paramilitary morale. There 
had been a steady decline in the strength of RVNAF since October 1963, notably 
including a decrease of 4,000 in March alone; and the current strength was 
almost 20,000 below the authorized figure agreed necessary by both govern- 
ments. Likewise, the force level of SDC had decreased in the same period by 
almost 13,000, leaving that force 18,000 below its authorized strength. The 
Civil Guard was almost 5,000 below the required strength. The ARVN and CG 
desertion rate was double what it had been in February, and SDC desertion rate 
was up 40%. Only 55% of the conscription quotas were being met and volun- 
teers were below the expected level. 

Failure to provide funds was blamed as a major reason for these military man- 
power deficiencies. The shortage was so great that the current trend in effectives 
could not be reversed before August in any event. Lodge went on to say that 
USOM and MACV visits to the provinces also confirmed that failure to provide 
piastres to local headquarters also led to shortages of resources for pacification 
efforts. The result was that most of the McNamara program of reforms and im- 
provements (of NSAM-288) was failing, not due to lag in support promised by 
the United States, but simply because the Saigon government did not provide 
piastre support for the joint pacification program agreed upon by the two govern- 
ments. The war. Lodge concluded, was being lost for want of administrative 
initiative in printing and distributing the necessary local funds for the agreed 
programs. Lodge conceded that the government had made a forward step in 
announcing its intentions to decentralize procurement authority from the Director 
General of the Budget and Foreign Aid to the ministries, but further decentraliza- 
tion to provincial and district authorities was advisable. 

Khanh passed the buck to Oanh, who explained that the MRC had inherited 
enormously complicated bureaucratic procedures based on older French prac- 
tices, with checks and counterchecks before actions could be effected, and that 
these practices were being reformed. New regulations were about to go into 
effect and it was hoped that they would improve the situation. 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 61 

Recommendation #5 of 288 had been "to asist the Vietnamese to create a 
greatly enlarged administrative corps." Effective action upon this recommenda- 
tion was considered essential to effective progress in the pacification program, 
as is clearly implied by the follov^ing list of the lines of action that were to be 
strengthened by the enlarged administrative corps. These were: 

1. Training and pay of new hamlet action cadres, of new village secre- 
taries, of district chiefs and other district staff, of a new assistant for pacifica- 
tion for each Province Chief, and of hamlet school teachers, health workers, 
district agricultural workers, and rural information officers, 

2. Special incentive pay for government workers in rural areas. 

3. Selective pay raises for some civil servants. 

4. Increasing enrollment in the National Institute of Administration 
(NIA) to full capacity (this was a training school for civil servants), includ- 
ing provision of short term in-service training by NIA. 

5. Organization of a joint U.S.-GVN Committee on governmental reform 
to review, recommend, and install needed provisions in governmental pro- 

6. Expanding and training National Police especially for rural areas con- 
sistent with other recommendations to strengthen military and paramilitary 

Along with this increase in Vietnamese administrative personnel there was to 
be increase in U.S. advisory personnel to assist them. On 2 April the Mission 
advised Washington that a general agreement had been reached with the GVN 
and estimated that 12 additional USOM public administration personnel were 
needed. On the following day, however, the Ambassador expressed his reserva- 
tions over the large increase in staff. On 30 April in an EXDIS to the President, 
Lodge said that Khanh was willing to accept U.S. administrators in pacified areas 
provided the U.S. felt willing to accept casualties. Lodge recommended a high 
level civil administrative advisor to Khanh himself; and on 4 May in an EXDIS 
to the Secretary of State he recommended four AID public administrative ad- 
visors, one to each of the four Corps areas, all to be directly under the Am- 

As of mid-May, however, while there were some accomplishments, on the 
whole there had been more discussion than action. Before the mid-May meeting 
for Secretary McNamara in Saigon the status of progress was summarized for 
him in the Mid-May Briefing Book as follows: 

1. The initiation of a two-week training program for district chiefs had 
started and the first class had graduated. 

2. Assignment had been made of one entire graduating class, 82 of them 
with three full years of training, to be district chiefs. 

3. Training of 75 hamlet action cadres for use in the Pacification Plan 
had been initiated. 

4. Assignment of 700 Saigon civil servants to the III Corps area had 
been completed (but two-thirds of them had returned by mid-May as either 
unfit or in excess of needs ) . 

5. The long standing training programs for hamlet workers had continued. 

6. A course to train 2500 new village secretaries had been initiated. 

7. Assurance that all future graduates of NIA would be assigned to the 
countryside had been made. 

62 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

8. There was a promise to undertake to double the output of graduates 
from the NIA. 

No action had been taken, however, on other measures. The most salient in- 
action was the failure to set up the promised U.S.-GVN committee on govern- 
ment reform. Further, the GVN was not inclined to provide incentive pay to 
key rural workers. 

At the time that Secretary McNamara and his party went to Saigon in the 
middle of May, the problem areas with respect to implementation of NSAM-288 
recommendations were identified as follows: 

1. Inadequate provision of piastres for proper utilization of already 
trained officials and technicians. 

2. Possible inability of GVN to get the job done without direct U.S. 

3. Lack of information from the field on plans for aggressive implementa- 
tion of all aspects of this recommendation. 

Recommendation 4, 6, and 7 of NSAM-288 concerned increases in GVN 
military forces and capabilities and were generally considered together: 

4. To assist the Vietnamese to increase the armed forces (regular plus 
paramilitary) by at least 50,000 men. 

6. To assist the Vietnamese to improve and reorganize the paramilitary 
forces and to increase their compensation. 

7. To assist the Vietnamese to create an offensive guerrilla force. 

On 23 March 1964 a joint State-Defense-AID message asked the country 
team to refine (and elaborate) these concepts and recommend a program of 
implementing actions. The mission was authorized to initiate appropriate first 
steps without waiting for final agreement between the USG and the GVN. There 
followed, as already noted, the pertinent proclamations of early April, but they 
were only proclamations, nothing more. On 27 April General Harkins reported 
that GVN planning for reorganization of paramilitary forces and development 
of a concept for programs was still in process. General Phat, the Minister of 
Interior, was considering a merger of SDC and Combat Youth into a single 
organization (the Popular Forces) under the Ministry of Interior. The Civil 
Guard would go under the Army high command. Operational control of Popular 
Forces would be vested in sector and sub-sector commanders at province and 
district levels. At village levels. Popular Forces would encompass the total local 
security force and would include both full-time and part-time personnel. Details 
of compensation and the logistic mechanism were not clear. Harkins judged 
that the concept was consistent with the Pacification Plan, but the total anticipated 
strength of Popular Forces could not be projected until more detailed planning 
had been accomplished. Detailed negotiations with the GVN were continuing 
and a further report was to be made on 10 May. 

Two days later, on 29 April 1964, the ICS commented on the slowness of 
the GVN in implementing recommendations for 6 and 7 and pointed out an 
apparent divergence between MACV and GVN on the strength and organization 
of the GVN forces. They explained that the 50,000 figure was an interim plan- 
ning figure, and that further increases should be recommended when and as 
necessary. COMUSMACV was asked to submit his detailed plan for imple- 
menting 4, 6, and 7 by the 7th of May. 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 63 

Almost simultaneously with this JCS message, Harkin's deputy, General West- 
moreland, was accompanying Ambassador Lodge to see Khanh on the occasion, 
already described, when Ambassador Lodge made his strong demarche with the 
Vietnamese Premier. Westmoreland expatiated on the military aspects of the 
Ambassador's complaint, especially the RVNAF deficiencies, specifying increased 
desertion rates and inadequate enlistments and draft callups. He calculated that 
at the current rates of desertion, casualties and recruitment the RVNAF at the 
end of the year would be smaller not larger than at present. 

Finally, on 7 May, Harkins was able to report that a USG-GVN agreement 
had been reached on calendar year 1964 force goals for the RVNAF, Civil 
Guard and the National Police, although there was not yet an agreement on the 
SDC and Combat Youth. The agreement on the RVNAF, CG, and SDC force 
levels were as shown in the tabulation below: 











and armed) 


CY 64 










1. GVN = 1.4 billion 

2. U.S. = $18 million 
for pay; $5 million 

1. .8 billion piastres 

2. $2.2 million MAP (no 
estimate of cost of pay 

No estimates of cost (no 
agreement yet) 

No estimates of cost (no 
agreement yet) 

10,650 500,000 million piastres 
$1.2 million 

With respect to the perennial problem of assisting the Vietnamese to develop 
their own offensive guerrilla force, in mid-May there was some progress to report, 
although the accomplishments were less than had been hoped. Efforts were con- 
tinuing to improve the distribution of Ranger battalions for use against VC base 
areas and in border areas of I and II Corps. Plans also were being developed at 
that time for better border control, and for intelligence integration, coordination 
of Vietnamese Special Forces operations, and air surveillance. Efforts were also 
being made towards integration of Vietnamese Special Forces and U.S. Special 
Forces staffs at all command echelons. Vietnamese junior officers and NCO's, 
including Montagnards, were being initiated to training and guerrilla warfare 
techniques in the new VNSF/USSF Center at Nha Trang. This was expected to 
encourage the VNSF to adopt bolder and more confident tactics. 

Recommendations 8, 9, and 10 were accomplished rather simply and expedi- 

64 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

tiously because they consisted entirely of supplying the South Vietnamese materials 
that they needed. It did not involve our inducing the Vietnamese themselves to 
do anything. Recommendation 8 was to provide the Vietnamese Air Force 25 
AlH aircraft in exchange for present T-28's. Recommendation 9 was to provide 
the Vietnamese army additional M-113 APC's (withdrawing the M-114's there), 
additional riverboats and approximately $5-10 million worth of additional ma- 
teriel. Recommendation 10 was to announce publicly the fertilizer program and 
to expand it with a view to trebling within two years the amount of fertilizer 
currently made available. 

MAP funding for Recommendation 8 was approved by ISA on 25 March 
1964 following approval of the delivery schedule on 22 March. On 1 May 1964, 
19 AlH's were delivered and six more scheduled for delivery 10 days later. A 
Navy unit of 4 support officers, 8 instruction pilots and 150 men arrived on 30 
April 1964 to train Vietnamese crews until they could assume full responsibility, 
which was estimated to be in three to six months. By early May planning and 
funding action for the provision of the M-113's had been completed. According 
to the schedule developed in response to the request for this materiel made by 
CINCPAC and COMUSMACV, 17 M-113's were shipped to arrive in Saigon 17 
April, 16 were due to arrive 29 April, 30 were shipped to arrive by 1 June, and 
30 more were to arrive by 10 July. There was an agreement between CINCPAC 
and COMUSMACV that no additional howitzers, riverboats or AN/PRC/41s 
were to be recommended at that time. Eighty-five thousand tons of fertilizer had 
been requested and procured by early May for spring planting, and this had 
been publicized by the GVN and in Washington. A distribution scheme was 
being developed and refined in early May with provision for further expansion 
including a probable 18,000 tons requirement in the fall. 

There were two important visitations to Saigon during April. The first was by 
General Earle G. Wheeler, then Chief of Staff, USA, who visited Saigon from 
15-20 April and represented Secretary McNamara and the JCS during the visit 
of the Secretary of State to Saigon 17-20 April. It was during these meetings that 
Khanh's desire to shift the emphasis of the struggle to an attack on the North 
first become emphatically evident. In the meeting with Khanh on 16 April, 
Wheeler, in company with General Harkins, was informed by Khanh that even- 
tually the war must be moved north. Harkins later told Wheeler that this was the 
first time Khanh had ever said that extending operations to the North was inevita- 
ble. Khanh explained that when the move to the North occurred MACV would 
have to take over all the logistics. He further said he was ready to start planning 
for an extension of operations to the North. 

Two days later on 18 April Khanh again brought the matter up, this time 
with Secretary of State Rusk. Rusk replied that this was a big problem, that 
political preparation would be needed, and that while the U.S. was prepared to 
take any action necessary to win the war, it had to be very clear that such action 
was indeed necessary before the U.S. would embark on it. 

A fortnight before on 4 April 1964 W. P. Bundy had written a letter to Am- 
bassador Lodge with enclosures which concerned a possible political scenario 
to support action against North Vietnam and for the earlier, so-called "Blue 
Annex" (considerations of extended actions to the North) completed during 
the McNamara-Taylor visit in March 1964. In Washington there was considerable 
theorizing, in this period, about the best manner of persuading North Vietnam 
to cease aid to the NLF-VC by forceful but restrained pressures which would 
convey the threat of greater force if the North Vietnamese did not end their 
support of the insurgency in South Vietnam. In certain circles in Washington at 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963- Apr. 1965 65 

least, there was what appears now to have been an amazing level of confidence 
that we could induce the North Vietnamese to abandon their support of the SVN 
insurgency if only we could convince them that we meant business, and that we 
would indeed bomb them if they did not stop their infiltration of men and supplies 
to the South. 

This confidence, although ultimately accepted as the basis for decision, was 
neither universal nor unqualified. This was evident, for instance in the meeting 
of 19_April, when the subject was discussed in Saigon with Rusk, Lodge, Harkins, 
Nes, Manfull, DeSilva, Lt. Col. Dunn, General Wheeler, W. P. Bundy, and 
Solbert of ISA. Much of the discussion on that occasion centered on the political 
context, objectives, and risks, of increasing military pressure on North Vietnam. 
It was understood that it would be first exerted solely by the Government of 
Vietnam, and would be clandestine. Gradually both wraps and restraints would 
be removed. A point on which there was a good deal of discussion was what 
contact with the DRV would be best in order to let Hanoi know the meaning of 
the pressures and of the threats of greater pressures. Ambassador Lodge favored 
a Canadian ICC man who was about to replace the incumbent. The new man 
he had known at the UN. While Lodge was willing to participate in discussions 
of the mechanisms, he was explicitly unsure of Hanoi's reaction to any level of 
pressure. Lodge was not always fully consistent in his views on this subject, and 
it is not clear that his reservations on this score led him to counsel against the 
move or to express other cautions. However, he did say he doubted that we 
could meet massive intervention by the DRV by purely conventional measures. 
Rusk hoped that the threatened pressures against Hanoi would induce her to 
end her support for the VC. Rusk emphasized the importance of obtaining the 
strongest possible evidence of DRV infiltration. It was during this discussion that 
the question of the introduction of U.S. Naval forces — and hints of Cam Ranh 
Bay — arose as a measure which it was hoped would induce increased caution in 
Hanoi. The presence of military power there, it was hoped, might induce Hanoi 
to be more restrained in its actions toward South Vietnam. There was speculation 
about whether the use of nuclear weapons against North Vietnam would bring in ; 
the Russjans. Rusk had been impressed, so he said, by Chiang Kai-shek's recent, j 
strongly expressed opposition to-any-use-by the Unit^ States of nuclear weapons. ■! 
There was mention that Khiem had sought Chinese Nationalist military forces : 
but their utility was generally deprecated. Bundy conjectured, for argument's sake, | 
that nukes used in wholly unpopulated areas solely for purposes of interdiction | 
might have a different significance than if used otherwise. It is not reported that | 
any examination of effectiveness or of obviously possible countermeasures was 
essayed; and no decisions were made. But the direction of thinking was clearly 
away from measures internal to Vietnam, and clearly headed toward military 
actions against the North. 

At the conclusion of his visit to Vietnam in mid-April Secretary Rusk drew 
up the two-part summary list of added steps that he believed necessary. The first 
part, composed of actions presenting no substantive policy problems listed the 
following actions: 

L Engage more flags in South Vietnam. 

2. Increase GVN diplomatic representation, and GVN information activ- 
ity (to widen support of the GVN cause). 

3. Enlist General Minh in the war effort. 

4. Mobilize public support for war effort by civilian groups. 

5. Improve the psychological warfare effort. 

66 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

6. Discreetly cooperate with Khanh for the expulsion of "undesirable 

7. Empower Ambassador Lodge to make on-the-spot promotions to U.S. 
civilians in Vietnam. 

Among the actions the Secretary felt should be considered, but which involved 
policy problems, were: 

1. Maintain U.S. naval presence at either Tourane or Cam Ranh Bay, 
as a signal to Hanoi (to suggest to them our deep interest in affairs in Viet- 
nam) . 

2. Spend more money in developing pacified provinces instead of con- 
centrating efforts almost exclusively on trouble spots. 

3. Push GVN anti-junk operations gadually north of the DMZ. 

4. Remove inhibitions on the use of Asian intelligence agents in Cam- 
bodian-Laos border areas. 

By the end of another fortnight Khanh's mood had turned much more strongly 
toward insistence upon his march to the North. On the morning of 4 May 1964, 
Khanh asked Lodge to call, and Khanh began by asking if he should make a 
declaration putting the country on a war footing. This, he said would involve 
getting rid of "politicians" in the government and having a government composed 
frankly of technicians. It would involve suspension of civil rights ("as had been 
the case under Lincoln in your civil war"). There would be a curfew, Saigon 
would cease to be a city of pleasure, and plans laid to evacuate the diplomatic 

! corps and two million people. Khanh then said that an announcement should be 
made to Hanoi that any further interference with South Vietnam's internal affairs 
would lead to reprisals, and Khanh specifically asked if the U.S. would be pre- 
i pared to undertake tit-for-tat bombing each time there was such interference. 
Continuing, Khanh talked further, somewhat wildly, of defying Cambodia 
and breaking diplomatic relations with France; and he even mentioned a declara- 
tion of war against the DRV at one point. He conveyed the impression of a 
desperate desire to press for an early military decision by outright war with the 
DRV. Lodge sought to discourage this sort of adventurism, but acknowledged 
that if the DRV invaded South Vietnam with its Army, that act would raise a 
host of new questions of acute interest to the U.S. Possible entry of Chinese 
forces would have to be considered. The question then would be whether such an 
Army could be made ineffective by interdicting its supply lines. He could not 
envision the U.S. putting into Asia an Army the size of the U.S. Army in Europe 
in World War IL Khanh said that he understood this but that an "Army Corps" 
of U.S. Special Forces numbering 10,000 could do in Asia as much as an Army 
group had done in Europe. "One American can make soldiers out of 10 
Orientals." [Sic!] It was illogical, wasteful, and wrong to go on incurring casualties 
"just in order to make the agony endure." 

Near the end of his report of this conversation, the Ambassador inserted this 
comment, "this man obviously wants to get on with the job and not sit here in- 
definitely taking casualties. Who can blame him?" Then he added, as a further 
comment : 

His desire to declare a state of war . . . seems wholly in line with our 
desire to get out of a "business as usual" mentally. He is clearly facing up to 
all the hard questions and wants us to do it, too. 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963- Apr. 1965 67 

Lodge's report of Khanh's impatient wish to strike north drew an immediate 
flash response from Rusk, which began with a statement that made it clear that 
the message had been considered carefully at the White House. Extremely grave 
issues were raised by the conversation, and reactions had to be developed with 
great care. There would still be another meeting with the President on the matter, 
on 6 May, before McNamara departed for the trip that would take him to Saigon 
(after Bonn). McNamara would take up issues with Lodge upon his arrival there. 
But before the 6 May meeting with the President, would Lodge please answer 
seven questions as a contribution to the Washington consideration of the issue. 

The questions raised by the Secretary and the answers provided later by the 
Embassy follow: 

1. What were Khanh's motivations? Does he believe that mobilization 
makes sense only as a preparation for military action against North Vietnam? 
Reply: Khanh as professional soldier thinks in terms of victory. Not a 
matter of pique. Honestly seeking a means of putting country on war footing. 

2. Is there a trace of despair in Khanh's remarks? Does he think he can 
win without attacking north? Reply: No. 

3. Previously Khanh told McNamara it would be necessary to consolidate 
a base in South Vietnam for attacking North Vietnam. Previous counter- 
guerrilla experience in Greece, Malaya, and Korea supports this judgment. 
Reply: Khanh does not want to move regardless of progress in the South. 

4. Khanh's talk of evacuating seems fantastic. Reply: Agree. Khanh's 
concern was an ability to administer the city if attacked. (This referred to 
Khanh's discussion of evacuating the city.) 

5. Were Khanh's talks of warning to Hanoi and Cambodia and action 
against the French integral parts of mobilization? Reply: Yes. But he should 
have evidence against French nationals. 

6. How to interpret Khanh's remarks about U.S. "Army Corps?" Reply: 
Loose talk. This reaction came after (Lodge's) discouraging reply about 
the possibility of the U.S. bringing in large numbers of forces. 

7. Was the GVN capable of administering limited mobilization? Reply: 
Question is a puzzler. However, some such thing might be a way of over- 
coming "business as usual." 

The response to Khanh's proposal that came out of the 6 May meeting was 
that the Secretary of Defense was to tell Khanh, when he was in Saigon, that the 
U.S. did "not intend to provide military support nor undertake the military ob- 
jective of rolling back Communist control in North Vietnam." 


Accompanied by General Wheeler, and MM. Sylvester and McNaughton, and 
his military aide, the Secretary of Defense made a brief visit to Saigon 12-14 
May enroute home from Bonn. In informing Saigon on 4 May of his projected 
visit he said that his primary objective was to get full information as to the 
current status and future plans, with targets and dates, for the following items 
for the rest of calendar year 1964: 

L Augmentation of GVN military and paramilitary forces, with a break- 
down by area and service category. 

68 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/VoL III 

2. Increased compensation for GVN military and paramilitary personnel. 

3. Reorganization of military and paramilitary forces. 

4. Creation of the Civil Administrative Corps. 

5. Implementation of the national mobilization plan. 

6. The steps and timetables, both military and civil, for our implementa- 
tion of the oil-spot concept of pacification. 

Additionally, it was further specified that he wanted information on the follow- 

1. A map of population and areas controlled by the VC and the GVN. 

2. Progress of military operations in extending control by the oil-spot 

3. Brief reports on the critical provinces. 

4. The Country Team's appraisal of Khanh's progress in strengthening 
national, provincial and district governments. 

5. The Country Team's evaluation of Khanh's support by various groups 
(constituting Vietnamese political power centers). 

6. MACV's forecast of likely VC and GVN military activity for the rest 
of 1964. 

7. Recommendations on cross-border intelligence operations. 

8. Report on the extent to which the U.S. contribution of added resources 
or personnel (either military or civilian) for civil programs could strengthen 
the GVN counterinsurgency program. 

The trip books prepared for the members of the Secretary's party also indicated 
that one major concern was to reinforce Lodge's demarche of 30 April concerning 
facilitating the flow of piastres to the provinces for counterinsurgency support. 
It was suggested that possibly the rigid and conservative director of the budget, 
Luu Van Tinh might have to be dismissed if Oanh couldn't make him do better. 
A list of problems that were created by lack of piastres in the provinces followed: 

1. Health workers trained by AID were not employed for lack of piastres. 

2. Provincial and district officers (both health and agricultural extension 
workers) were severely restricted in travel to villages for lack of per diem 
and gasoline. 

3. Bills for handling AID counterinsurgency cargo at the port of Danang 
were not paid, resulting in refusal and threat of refusal, by workers and 
groups, to handle more cargo. 

4. Several categories of GVN workers had not been paid salaries owed 
to them for months. 

5. Truckers were threatening to refuse to handle AID counterinsurgency 
cargo because they had not been paid for past services by the Government 
of Vietnam. 

6. There were inadequate funds to compensate villages for food, lodging, 
water and services provided by peasants to the ARVN, the CG, and the SDC. 

7. There had been nonpayment or delayed or only partial payment of 
promised relocation allowances to relocated authorities. 

In the light of these problems it was considered that two USOM piastre cash 
funds might be established: (1) a petty cash fund to support the Ministry of 
Education; and (2) a substantial USOM-controlled piastre fund to break bottle- 
necks in such matters as transportation of goods, spare parts, per diem payment 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 69 

of immobilized Vietnamese personnel, and emergency purchases on the local 
market. AID Administrator Bell in Washington had made commitments to 
Secretary McNamara that all piastres necessary for counterinsurgency would be 
forthcoming even if deficit financing were needed. But because there were plenty 
of commodity imports at hand, that posed no problem. USOM and MACV and 
the public administration advisors who were then being recruited should review 
carefully whether U.S. civil administration advisors to the provincial chiefs 
could facilitate the flow of funds and commodities, and expedite paper work. 
Finally, the use of rural afi'airs provincial staffs should be increased by one or 
more per province, perhaps using Filipinos or Chinese Nationals. 

The first day of the Secretary's stay in Saigon was spent in briefings, and 
not all of what he heard was encouraging. There was first a briefing from the 
Ambassador, who said the administrative mechanism of the central GVN was 
not functioning smoothly, that Khanh overcentralized authority, and that al- 
though the situation might work out the prospects were not good. One bit of 
encouragement was that Khanh was requesting more U.S. advisors — this was 
taken as a token of good intentions and of willingness to cooperate with the 
U.S. The provincial government would continue to be weak, and the corps com- 
manders' authority handicapped the provinces. Khanh's 23 new province chiefs 
and 80 new district chiefs had improved the quality of leadership, he thought. But 
the Buddhists, although fragmented, remained politically active and Thich Tri 
Quang was agitating strongly against Khanh. The Catholics were about to with- 
draw their chaplains from the Army. The students supported Khanh but the in- 
tellectuals did not. Lodge thought that the current U.S. program was of about 
the right size but that better leadership was needed. He would like U.S. civilian 
advisors in each corps area. When USOM Director Brent gave his briefing he 
made the point that USOM was 25 percent short of authorized personnel strength. 
This led the Secretary to ask about the use of U.S. military personnel, FSOs, or 
Peace Corps personnel to fill the shortage. Forrestal was asked to look into the 
problem and report. The NIA was short of faculty because seven instructors 
had been assigned elsewhere and there was, moreover, and inadequate budget. 

In the afternoon briefing, General Harkins said he was guardedly optimistic 
in spite of the fact that 23 province chiefs, 135 district chiefs, and practically all 
senior military commanders had been replaced since the last coup. In discussing 
"Population Control" (pacification), it was decided to use 1 April 1964 as a 
base for statistical measurements of pacification progress. When he came to the 
subject of the planned augmentation of ARVN and the paramilitary forces, the 
figures presented by General Harkins showed that achievement lagged behind the 
agreed goals. Although the agreed MAP program called for 229,000 RVNAF 
personnel at that time and 238,000 for the end of calendar year 1964, there were 
actually only 207,000 currently in RVNAF. (This showed no improvement over 
March.) The strength of RVNAF had in fact been decreasing consistently from 
a high of 218,000 in July 1963 because of increased activity (hence losses through 
casualties), desertions, budget problems and miscellaneous lesser causes. 

Among the topics receiving considerable attention during the meeting on the 
morning of the 13th of May was that of VNAF pilot training program. This 
subject assumed special importance for three reasons. First, the March program 
of providing helicopters to the Vietnamese Air Force called also for the provision 
of pilots to fly them. Second, there had just previously been some embarrassing 
publicity concerning the participation of USAF pilots in covert combat roles, an 
activity that had not been publicly acknowledge. Third, the meeting with the 
President on 6 May had led to the instructions to the Secretary, already noted, 

70 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

to discourage Khanh's hopes of involving the United States in his March to the 
North. In this discussion of VNAF pilot training, it was revealed that there were 
496 VNAF pilots currently at hand, but that 666 were required by 1 July. Thirty 
helicopter pilots were to finish by 1 July, 30 liaison pilots to finish by 27 June, 
and 226 cadet pilots were in the United States whose status was not known at 
the time of the meeting. The Secretary emphasized that it had never been intended 
that the USAF participate in combat in Vietnam, and current practices that belied 
this were exceptions to that policy. The Administration had been embarrassed 
because of the Shank affair — letters which had complained that U.S. boys were 
being killed in combat while flying inferior aircraft. The Secretary emphasized 
that that VNAF should have a better pilot-to-aircraft ratio. It should be 2 to 1 
instead of 1.4 to 1 as at present. And, as a first priority project, VNAF pilots 
should transition from other aircraft to the A-lHs to bring the total to 150 
qualified to fly that aircraft. It was tentatively agreed to fix that objective for 120 
days and accept the consequent degradation of transport capability. 

Following this there was a discussion of offensive guerrilla operations and 
cross-border operations, both of which were agreed to be inadequate. Creation of 
an offensive guerrilla force had been one of the Secretary's March recommenda- 
tions. General Westmoreland said that Special Forces of both the U.S. and the 
GVN were over-extended, and he added he believed that they should be ex- 
panded. As a result of this conversation MACV was directed to study the six- 
month duty tour of the U.S. Special Forces. The Secretary considered it possibly 
too short and thought it might have to be extended to a full year. On the subject 
of cross-border operations, the concept was to drop six-man teams in each of 
authorized areas in North Vietnam and Laos and pick them up, 30 days later, 
by helicopter. The objective was two teams by 15 June; and this potential was to 
be doubled each month thereafter. It was decided that operations should begin 
approximately 15 June 1964. 

In his subsequent report on this second SecDef-MACV conference, MACV 
reported that the Secretary of Defense had expressed disappointment that the 
civil defense decree of the GVN did not constitute a counterpart to military con- 
scription. Furthermore, MACV recorded that in the course of the discussion of 
means of strengthening the VNAF the Secretary of Defense had reaffirmed basic 
U.S. policy that fighting in Vietnam should be done by Vietnamese. The FARM- 
GATE concept was explained as a specific, reluctantly approved exception, a 
supplementary effort transitory in nature. 

The Secretary's military aide, Lt. Col. Sidney B. Berry, Jr., recorded the 
decisions taken by the Secretary at Saigon. They were these: 

1. Have the first group of six-man reconnaissance teams for cross-border 
operations ready to operate by 15 June 1964, then double the number of 
teams each month thereafter. The Secretary was anxious to get hard informa- 
tion on DRV aid to the VC. The Secretary was to get authority for addi- 
tional cross-border operations in addition to the operations already author- 
ized in two locations. 

2. Concerning the VNAF training program, there was never any intent, 
nor was it the policy of the USG to have USAF pilots participate in combat. 
Exception to this should be considered undesirable and not setting a prec- 
edent. MACV was therefore to give first priority to manning 75 AlHs with 
two Vietnamese pilots per aircraft, for a total of 150 Vietnamese pilots; 
and he was also to determine the optimum size of the VNAF, tentatively 
using a figure of 125 to 150 AlH aircraft. In connection with this the 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 71 

Secretary approved assignment to the VNAF of 25 more AlHs by 1 October 
1964 to replace 18 RT-28s on hand. 

3. When the Secretary asked Harkins if he needed additional Special 
Forces, Harkins repUed, "Yes." The Secretary then said that when COMUS- 
MACV stated requirements he would approve them if they were valid. 
He said that a six-month duty tour was too short and the normal tour should 
be extended to one year, reserving the right, of course, to make exceptions 
for special cases. 

4. When General Harkins handed the Secretary a shopping list for items 
and funds totalling about $7 million, the Secretary immediately approved the 

5. The Secretary directed COMUSMACV to submit in writing require- 
ments for South Vietnamese military housing. 

6. Concerning MACV needs, the "SecDef made unequivocal statement 
that MACV should not hesitate to ask for anything they need. SecDef gives 
first priority to winning the war in SVN. If necessary he will take weapons 
and equipment from U.S. forces to give the VNAF. Nothing will be spared to 
win the war. But U.S. personnel must operate in compliance with USG 
policies and objectives." 

Near the end of the Secretary's stay General Khanh met with McNamara, 
Lodge, Taylor and Harkins; and judging from the report of the meeting sent 
in by the Ambassador, Khanh put on a masterful performance. Khanh began 
his talk by reviewing the recent course of the war claiming to have established 
control, in the last three months, over some three million Vietnamese citizens 
[sic]. However, the danger of reinfiltration by the Communists still existed. Khanh 
said that the biggest and most time-consuming problems were political, and he 
was unskilled in such things and wanted to lean for advice on Ambassador Lodge. 
But religious problems were also pressing. There was religious conflict between 
Catholics and Buddhists and within the Buddhist movement. The Government of 
Vietnam was in the middle. The real trouble-maker was Thich Tri Quang. Lodge 
was trying to help Khanh in this. There was also a problem with the press, and 
with "parlor politicians" (civilians). Khanh said that he was a soldier, not a 
politician, and wished he could spend his time mounting military operations and 
in planning long-term strategy instead of dealing with political intrigues and 
squabbles. But he had to think about the security of his regime. 

The Secretary then referred to the Ambassador's report of Khanh's desire 
not to "prolong the agony," and said that he, the Secretary, wanted to hear more 
about this. Khanh said that in speaking of not wanting to "make the agony 
endure" he did not mean he would lose patience, but rather wanted to speed up 
the effort by something like a proclamation that South Vietnam was being 
attacked from the north and was therefore being put on a war footing. The 
statement would also say that if this attack from the north did not stop within 
a specified period of time. South Vietnam would strike back in ways and degrees 
comparable to the North Vietnamese attacks on South Vietnam. 

Whereas the north attacks us with guerrillas that squirm through the 
jungle, we would attack them with guerrillas of our own, only ours would 
fly at treetop level and blow up key installations or mine the Port of 

The Secretary asked in return if Khanh judged it wise to start operations at 
that time. Khanh replied that he needed first to consider the enemy's probable 
reaction, including the reaction of Communist China. The NLF and VC were 

72 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. HI 

only arms and hands of the monster whose head was in Hanoi "and maybe 
further north." To destroy the thing it was necessary to strike the head. The 
purpose of going on a war footing was to prepare for ultimate extension of the 
war to the north. Taylor asked how best to attack the North. It had been noted 
that small-scale operations had had no success. With respect to RVNAF capabili- 
ties, Khanh said that they either were equal to the task already, or soon would 
be — the problem was to be sure of enjoying full U.S. support. Khanh conceded 
that there were always unknowns that created uncertainties. Taylor recalled that 
in March Khanh had favored holding off the attack on North Vietnam until 
there was a stabler base in South Vietnam. Khanh hedged on this point at first; 
then, after conceding some GVN weakness, said an attack on the North was the 
best way to cure that weakness. It would be a cure for weakness to draw clear 
lines of battle and thereby engage men's hearts in an all-out effort. 

The Secretary at a later point reminded Khanh of the 72,000-man increase in 
ARVN, and another 72,000-man increase in paramilitary forces, that had been 
agreed upon in March; and pointed out that accomplishments in April did not 
suggest that the GVN was on schedule. The Secretary emphasized he made the 
observation only to introduce his main point, which was that the U.S. Govern- 
ment would help in any way it could to get the program back on schedule. Then 
he produced a chart showing what should have been achieved and what actually 
had been achieved. The USG would supply any needed funds, and fighter-type 
aircraft, but the GVN must emphasize to the provinces that program funds 
must be disbursed. Khanh blamed the piastre disbursal difficulties on inherited 
French budget practices, and promised to pressure the province chiefs further 
on the matter. There was talk about incompetent personnel within the GVN and 
of the problems of replacing them. 


The next landmark of policy formation for Vietnam was the Honolulu Con- 
ference of 30 May 1964. On 26 May, the President sent out to Lodge his call 
for the Honolulu Conference: 

I have been giving the most intense consideration to the whole battle for 
Southeast Asia, and I have now instructed Dean Rusk, Bob McNamara, Max 
Taylor and John McCone to join Felt in Honolulu for a meeting with you 
and a very small group of your most senior associates in Southeast Asia to 
review for my final approval a series of plans for effective action. 

I am sending you this message at once to give you private advance notice 
because I hope this meeting can occur very soon — perhaps on Monday. 
Dean Rusk will be sending you tomorrow a separate cable on the subjects 
proposed for the meeting, and Bob McNamara will put a plane at your 
disposal for the trip . . . 

Other parts of the message referred to matters related to imepnding changes in the 
mission in Saigon — the retirement of General Harkins and his replacement by 
General Westmoreland and the strengthening of the civilian side of the country 

The promised policy guidance followed promptly. It constituted both an ap- 
praisal of the current situation and a statement of the needs — flowing from that 
appraisal — that it seemed evident had to be met, along with some proposals for 
meeting those needs. 

I. You will have surmised from yesterday's telegram from the President 
and the Secretary that we here are fully aware that gravest decisions are in 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 73 

front of us and other governments about free world's interest in and com- 
mitment to security of Southeast Asia. Our point of departure is and must 
be that we cannot accept overrunning of Southeast Asia by Hanoi and 
Peiping. Full and frank discussion of these decisions with you is purpose of 
Honolulu meeting . . . 

2. President will continue in close consultation with Congressional 
leadership (he met with Democratic leadership and Senate Republicans 
yesterday) and will wish Congress associated with him on any steps which 
carry with them substantial acts and risks of escalation. At that point 
there will be three central questions: 

a. Is the security of Southeast Asia vital to the U.S. and of the free 

b. Are additional steps necessary? 

c. Will the additional steps accomplish their mission of stopping the 
intrusions of Hanoi and Peping into the south? 

Whether approached from b or c above, it seems obvious that we must 
do everything within our power to stiffen and strengthen the situation 
in South Vietnam. We recognize that . . . the time sequence of Com- 
munist actions may force the critical decisions before any such pre- 
paratory measures could achieve tangible success. 

II. Nevertheless, in Honolulu, we would like you ... to be prepared to 
discuss with us several proposals . . perhaps the most radical ... is the 
one which . . . would involve a major infusion of U.S. efforts into a group 
of selected provinces where Vietnamese seem currently unable to execute 
their pacification programs . . . 

We would therefore propose that U.S. personnel, both civilian and 
military, drawn from the U.S. establishment currently in Vietnam, be "en- 
cadred" into current Vietnamese political and military structure . . . 

Specifically, this would involve the assignment of civilian personnel, 
alternatively military personnel with a civilian function, to work in the pro- 
vincial administration, and insofar as it is feasible, down to the logistic level 
of administration. On the military side it would mean the introduction of 
mobile training teams to train, stiffen and improve the state of the Vietna- 
mese paramilitary forces and district operation planning . . . 

In order to test the utility of such a proposal, we would suggest that 
seven provinces be chosen for this purpose. We would offer the provinces 
of Long An, Dinh Tuong, Kien Hoa, Tay Ninh, Hau Nghia, which are five 
critical provinces in the immediate vicinity of Saigon. Additionally, we would 
propose Quang Ngia. . . . and finally Phu Yen. . . . 

. . . U.S. personnel assigned to these functions would not appear di- 
rectly in the chain of command. . . . They would instead be listed as 
"assistants" to the Vietnamese officials. In practice, however, we would 
expect them to carry a major share of the burden of decision and action . . . 

. . . This proposal might also require a close integration of U.S. and 
Vietnamese pacification activities in Saigon. . . . 

III. In addition to these radical proposals ... we continue gravely con- 
cerned about the differences between Khanh and the generals, the problem 
of Big Minh, and the religious differences. . . . 

IV. Finally, we wish to consult with you on the manner in which we can 
. . . eliminate the business as usual attitude in Saigon. . . . We will also 
wish to examine the best means of reducing the problems of dependents. . , . 

74 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

On the same day that the foregoing poHcy guidance went out to Ambassador 
Lodge, a meeting was held in Washington at WilHam SulUvan's suggestion. 
Attended by Mr. McGeorge Bundy, John McNaughton, General Goodpastor 
and William Colby, it considered a policy memo drawn up by Mr. Mendenhall 
covering most of the same points raised in the message to Lodge. The gist of 
the memo was that the GVN was not operating effectively enough to reverse the 
adverse trend of the war against the VC, that the Khanh government was well 
intentioned but its good plans were not being translated into effective action, 
and that it was necessary therefore to find means of broadening the U.S. role in 
Vietnam in order to infuse efficiency into the operations of the GVN. In general, 
the memo argued the U.S. should become more deeply involved both militarily 
and otherwise, abandoning the passive advisor role but avoiding visibility as a part 
of the chain of command. Vietnamese sensitivities imposed limitations, and if 
it should appear that the United States intruded, the Vietnamese might come to 
resent our presence. The memo proposed, nevertheless, that the meeting carefully 
consider a phased expansion of the U.S. role. First, military advisors might be 
placed in paramilitary units in seven provinces — about 300 added advisors would 
be needed for this purpose. Second, in the same seven provinces — Long An, 
Dinh Tuong, Kien Hoa, Tay Ninh, Hau Nghia, Quang Ngia, and Phu Yen — ■ 
U.S. civilian and military personnel should be interlarded in the civil administra- 
tion, about 10 per province for a total of 70. Third, as an experiment, the U.S. 
might try civilians at district levels to supplement the U.S. military personnel 
being assigned there. 'Tn view of the traditional distrust of the Vietnamese 
peasants for military personnel, it is of considerable importance to begin an 
introduction of American civilian presence at this level to help win support of 
the peasant population." [Sic] To back up these field operations it was suggested 
that a joint Vietnamese-American Pacification Operations Committee be estab- 
lished, with high level representation from MACV and USOM on the U.S. side, 
and from the Defense Ministry, the Joint General Staff (JGS), the Vice President 
for Pacification, and the Directorate of the Budget and Foreign Aid on the 
Vietnamese side. This Joint Pacification Operations Committee should be con- 
cerned not with policy but with implementation of policies. (This was judged 
the weak side of the GVN.) U.S. personnel might, in addition, be introduced at 
reasonably high levels into the Ministries of Rural Affairs, Interior, Information, 
Education, Health, Public Works, and, in fact, into any other agency concerned 
with pacification. Finally, the U.S. personnel so assigned should come from among 
those Americans already on the spot — partly from civilians and partly from 
military officers already on assignment there — and the vacancies caused by these 
reassignments should be filled by recruitment from the U.S. 

A cable from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to CINCPAC and 
COMUSMACV indicated that (in addition to some questions on Laos) the 
Secretary of Defense wanted the views of the two senior commanders in the 
Pacific (CINCPAC and MACV) on a series of questions largely but not ex- 
clusively military in nature: 

1. What military actions, in ascending order of gravity, might be taken 
to impress Hanoi with our intentions to strike North Vietnam? 

2. What would be the time factors and force requirements involved in 
achieving readiness for such actions against North Vietnam? 

3. What should be the purpose and pattern of the initial air strike against 
North Vietnam? 

us. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 75 

4. What was their concept of the actions and reactions which might arise 
from progressive implementation of CINCPAC plans 37-64 and 32-64? 

5. How might North Vietnam and Communist China respond to these 
escalating pressures? 

6. What military help should be sought from SEATO nations? 

There was a second group of queries which referred not to the possibility of 
military pressures of one sort or another against North Vietnam, but rather were 
directed mainly to the counterinsurgency efforts within South Vietnam. 

1, What were their views on providing four man advisory teams, at once, 
for each district in the seven selected provinces, and later in all of the 239 
districts in SVN? 

2, In what other ways could military personnel be used to advantage in 
forwarding the pacification program in the seven selected provinces? 

3, What was the current status of: 

a. The proposed increase in regular and paramilitary forces of the 
GVN, including the expansion of the VNAF, the reorganization of para- 
military forces and the increased compensation for GVN military forces? 

b. Formation of an intelligence net of U.S. advisors reporting on condi- 
tions in the RVNAF? 

c. Development of a capability for offensive guerrilla operations? 

d. Progress under decrees for national mobilization? 

e. Progress in detailing and in carrying out operational plans for clear- 
hold operations (the oil-spot concept)? 

Along with the solicitation of opinion from COMUSMACV and CINCPAC, 
summary proposals were developed by SACSA on the "feasiblility of strengthen- 
ing RVNAF, CG and SDC by increased advisory efforts and/or encadrement," 
SACSA's proposals, intended for consideration at the Honolulu meeting, centered 
on three subjects. The first elaborated a concept which was called "U.S. Advisory 
Assistance to the Vitenamese Civil Guard" which consisted of a phased program 
of U.S. detachments at the district level to provide operational assistance to para- 
military forces. About one and one-half years (or until the end of calendar year 
1965) would be needed to expand the current effort — which consisted of two-man 
teams for only 13 districts — to 239 districts with larger advisory teams (one 
officer and 3 NCO specialists). Thus, by the end of 1965, according to this plan, 
approximately 1,000 men would be assigned to the districts. To support this effort 
in the districts about 500 more personnel would be needed, raising the total to 
1500. The limiting factor on this effort would be a shortage of interpretors. 

The second program proposed for consideration by SACSA was a "Pilot Pro- 
gram for Provision of Advisory Assistance to Paramilitary Forces in Seven 
Provinces." This was directed exclusively to the seven critical provinces, namely. 
Long An, Dinh Tuong, Kien Hoa, Hau Nghia, Tay Ninh, Quang Ngia and Phu 
Yen. The concept in this case was to assign one advisory detachment with one 
company grade officer and three NCOs to each of the 49 districts in the seven 
provinces. In addition to this total of 200 persons, a 35 percent manpower over- 
head slice plus some augmentation at the province level (70 + 30) would be 
required. This would mean about 100 men in addition to the 4 X 49 in the 
districts, or an overall total of about 300. In addition, a minimum of 49 inter- 
pretors would be needed. 

76 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

The third proposal for discussion was a suggestion that U.S. advisors be placed 
at company level in regular ARVN units. In investigating this proposal, 
CINCPAC, COMUSMACV and advisors on the spot had been asked their 
judgment, and all were reported to believe that this extension of advisors to 
company level was not necessary, and that the current advisory structure to 
ARVN was adequate. 

The problem areas cited in all of these proposals to extend the advisory system 
were the questionable acceptability to the Vietnamese of further intrusion by 
American advisors, the shortage of interpretors, and finally the inevitable increase 
in U.S. casualties. 

The political problems demanding solutions in order to permit the GVN to 
proceed effectively in its struggle against the VC were identified in the U.S 
preparations for the Honolulu Conference as: 

a. The disposition of the senior political and military prisoners from the 
two coups (there was resentment by some groups over the detention of 
prisoners at Dalat; on the other hand, there was possible danger to the Khanh 
regime if they were released). 

b. The rising religious tension both Catholic and Buddhist. 

c. The split between Buddhists under Thich Tam Chau (moderates and 
under Thich Tri Quang (extremists). 

d. Petty politicking within the GVN. 

e. GVN failure to provide local lectures. 

f. GVN failure to appoint Ambassadors to key governments. 

g. Inadequate GVN arrangements to handle third country aid. 

h. RVNAF failure to protect the population. 

It was not within the competence of the Honolulu Conference to come to any 
decisions concerning the touchy matter of additional pressures against the North; 
this could be done only at the White House level. Agreement was reached, 
however, on certain specific actions to be taken with respect to the critical 
provinces and very shortly after the return of major participants to Washington 
these actions were approved and instructions were sent to the field accordingly. 

On 5 June the Department notified the Embassy in Saigon that actions agreed 
upon at Honolulu were to be taken with respect to the critical provinces as 

1 . Move in added South Vietnamese troops to assure numerical superior- 
ity over the VC. 

2. Assign contol over all troops in each province to the province chief. 

3. Execute clear-and-hold operations on a hamlet-by-hamlet basis follow- 
ing the "oil spot" theory for each of the approximately 40 districts within 
the seven critical provinces. 

4. Introduce population control programs (curfews, ID papers, intel- 
ligence networks, etc.). 

5. Increase the number of provincial police. 

6. Expand the information program. 

7. Develop special economic programs for each province. 

8. Add U.S. personnel as follows: 

a. 320 military advisors in provinces and districts. 

b. 40 USOM advisors in provinces and districts. 

c. 74 battalion advisors (2 for each of 37 battalions). 

434 TOTAL 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963- Apr. 1965 11 

9. Transfer military personnel as needed to fill USOM shortages. 
10. Establish joint US/GVN teams to monitor the program at both Na- 
tional and Provincial levels. 


The critical question of pressures against North Vietnam remained theoretically 
moot. The consensus of those formulating policy proposals for final approval by 
highest authority appears to have been that these pressures would have to be 
resorted to sooner or later. But the subject was politically explosive, especially 
in a presidential election year. Accordingly, not only did the basic foreign policy 
issues involved need careful exploration, but the domestic political framework 
needed preparation before any binding commitments to serious actions could 
be decided upon. 

On 15 June 1964, McGeorge Bundy addressed a memorandum to the Secre- 
taries of State and Defense announcing a meeting in the Secretary of State's Con- 
ference room that same day at 6:00 p.m. 

The principal question for discussion will be to assess the desirability 
of recommending to the President that a Congressional resolution on South- 
east Asia should be sought [material missing] 

The second question is what the optimum recommendation for action 
should be if in fact a congressional resolution is not recommended. . . . 

There were six enclosures included for the consideration of those attending 
the conference. The first was a memorandum on the subject of "Elements of a 
Southeast Asia Policy That Does Not Include a Congressional Resolution." The 
second was a Sullivan memorandum summarizing the current situation in South 
Vietnam. The third was a memorandum by W. P. Bundy dated 12 June 1964 
on "Probable Developments and [the] Case for Congressional Resolution on 
Southeast Asia." The fourth was a draft resolution on Southeast Asia for Con- 
gressional approval. The fifth suggested basic themes to be employed in present- 
ing the resolution to the Congress. The sixth and last consisted of a long series 
of questions and answers regarding the resolution of the public relations sort 
that it was thought should surround the effort. 

The proposed "Elements of a Policy That Does Not Include a Congressional 
Resolution" consisted largely of an elaboration of the covert measures that were 
already either approved or nearing approval. This included RECCE STRIKE and 
T-28 Operations all over Laos and small-scale RECCE STRIKE Operations in 
North Vietnam after appropriate provocation. Apparently the sequence of actions 
was thought of as beginning with VNAF Operations in the Laotian corridor, 
followed by limited air and sea deployments of U.S. forces toward Southeast 
Asia, and still more limited troop movements in that general area. Military actions 
were to be accompanied by political actions which would maximize diplomatic 
support for Laos and maximize the support and visible presence of allies in 
Saigon. This last was explicitly stated to be particularly desired by "higher au- 
thority." Diplomatic moves, it was hoped, would also intensify support of Sou- 
vanna. In Vietnam, the paper argued, we should emphasize the critical province 
program, strengthen the Country Team, shift the U.S. role from advice to direc- 
tion, discourage emphatically any further coup plots, and give energetic support 
to Khanh. In the U.S. there should be expanded publicity for opposition to both 
aggressive adventure and withdrawal. It is probably significant that the last words 

78 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. HI 

of this study were that "this outline does not preclude a shift to a higher level of 
action, if actions of other side should justify or require it. It does assume that in 
the absence of such drastic action, defense of U.S. interests is possible within these 
limits over the next six months." 

The Sullivan memorandum warrants special attention because, although nom- 
inally a report on this situation, it speculated on policy and courses of action in 
a way very significant to the policy formulation processes at this time. In discus- 
sing the role of morale as a future consideration it approached a level of mys- 
ticism over a pathway of dilettastism. It was stated that at Honolulu both Lodge 
and Westmoreland had said the situation would remain in its current stalemate 
unless some "victory" were introduced. Westmoreland defined victory as determi- 
nation to take some new military commitments such as air strikes against the Viet 
Cong in the Laos corridor; while Lodge defined victory as willingness to make 
punitive air strikes against North Vietnam. "The significant fact . . . was that 
they [both Westmoreland and Lodge] looked toward some American decision 
to undertake a commitment which the Vietnamese would interpret as a willing- 
ness to raise the military ante and eschew negotiations begun from a position of 
weakness." Although Khanh had had some success, Vietnamese morale was still 
not good and needed leadership had not been displayed. 

If we can obtain a breakthrough in the mutual commitment of the U.S. 
in Vietnam to a confident sense of victory, we believe that we can introduce 
this sort of executive involvement into the Vietnamese structure. . . . No 
one . . . can define with precision just how that breakthrough can be 
established. It could come from the external actions of the U.S., internal 
leadership in Vietnam, or from an act of the irreversible commitment by 
the United States. 

The "logic" of this seemed to be that Khanh had not been able to provide the 
necessary leadership, despite all the aid and support the U.S. had given. No level 
of mere aid, advice, and support short of full participation could be expected to 
supply this deficiency, because Khanh would remain discouraged and defeated 
until he was given full assurance of victory. He would not be able to feel that 
assurance of victory until the U.S. committed itself to full participation in the 
struggle, even to the extent of co-belligerency. If the U.S. could commit itself in 
this way, the U.S. determination would somehow be transfused into the GVN. 
The problem before the assembled U.S. policy-makers, therefore, was to find 
some means of breakthrough into an irreversible commitment of the U.S. 

The actions contemplated in this memorandum were not finally decided upon 
at this juncture, as we know. But we were gravitating inexorably in that direction 
in response to forces already at work, and over which we had ceased to have much 
real control. The situation in Vietnam had so developed, by this time, that by 
common consent the success of our programs in Vietnam — and indeed of our 
whole policy there, with which we had publicly and repeatedly associated our 
national prestige — depended upon the stability of the GVN. Conditions being 
what they were, the GVN equated, for the future to which plans and actions 
applied, with the Khanh regime. We were therefore almost as dependent upon 
Khanh as he was beholden to us. Circumstances had thus forced us into a 
situation wherein the most immediate and pressing goal of our programs in Viet- 
nam was recognized to be using our resources and prestige to perpetuate a 
regime that we knew was only one faction — opposed by other factions — and 
without any broad base of popular support. We were aware of that weakness, 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 79 

and fully intented, whenever it was expedient, to find ways to broaden that basis 
of popular support. But that was something that could be — and indeed had to 
be — deferred. Meantime we had to do first things first — we had to bolster the 
Khanh regime, and since this could only be done by endowing it with some of our 
own sense of purpose and determination for the cause that was in the first instance 
theirs, not ours, we would prepare to do the things Khanh indicated were neces- 
sary to give him courage. 


The changing of the guard in the U.S. mission in Saigon at the half year 
point, when Ambassador Lodge returned to the U.S. to participate in election 
year politics, symbolized the growing importance attached by the U.S. to its 
Southeast Asia commitment. The combination of the Chairman of the Joint 
Chiefs as Ambassador, backed up by a Deputy Ambassador in the person of 
U. Alexis Johnson, a former Under Secretary of State who had been U.S. Am- 
bassador to Thailand and was well known in SEA, made a prestigious and 
impressive team. Moreover, in sending the new Ambassador, the President 
endowed him with unusual powers. 

Dear Ambassador Taylor: As you take charge of the American effort 
in South Vietnam, I want you to have this formal expression not only of 
my confidence, but of my desire that you have and exercise full responsi- 
bility for the effort of the United States government in South Vietnam. In 
general terms this authority is parallel to that set forth in President Ken- 
nedy's letter of May 29, 1961, to all American Ambassadors; specifically, 
I wish it clearly understood that this overall responsibility includes the 
whole military effort in South Vietnam and authorizes the degree of com- 
mand and control that you consider appropriate. 

I recognize that in the conduct of the day-to-day business of the mili- 
tary assistance command, Vietnam, you will wish to work out arrangements 
which do not burden you or impede the exercise of your overall direction. 

At your convenience I should be glad to know of the arrangements which 
you propose for meeting the terms of this instuction, so that appropriate 
supporting action can be taken in the Defense Department and elsewhere 
as necessary. 

This letter rescinds all conflicting instructions to US officers in Vietnam. 


Lyndon B. Johnson 

The new U.S. team set out immediately to systematize U.S. operations in 
Vietnam, including reorganization of the upper echelons of the Mission. Added 
to this was an effort to improve the efficiency of the GVN and USG-GVN 
cooperation by developing a coordinate, parallel GVN organization. On 7 July 
Ambassador Taylor reported that, following recommendations from Deputy 
Ambassador Johnson and agency heads there, he had organized U.S. mission 
operations under the direction of a U.S. Mission Council, over which he 
would preside. The Council was to consist of himself, Johnson, Westmoreland, 
Killen (temporarily Hurt), Zorthian, DeSilva and Sullivan. This group was to 
meet once a week as an executive organization. To support this council he 
also established a Coordinating Committee to be chaired by Sullivan. This would 

80 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

carry out Mission Council decisions and prepare the agenda for Council 
meetings. On the following day, 8 July, Ambassador Taylor reported that he 
had called upon Khanh, and that Khanh had expressed satisfaction over the 
new U.S. personnel, and noted the rising morale their appointments had caused 
within the government. Taylor told Khanh about the formation of the Mission 
Council and Khanh asked for an organization chart so that he could develop 
a coordinate set-up within the GVN. Khanh said moreover that the U.S. should 
not merely advise, but should actually participate in GVN operations and de- 
cisions. "We should do this in Saigon (as well as in the provinces), between 
GVN ministries and offices and their American counterparts." 

The new Ambassador did not delay in plunging into the substance of the 
problems that were plaguing Vietnam. In his first conversations with Khanh 
he asked about the status of the religious problem, and according to Taylor's 
report of the conversation, Khanh said the situation was still delicate, that the 
Catholics were better organized and were the aggressors, that Thich Tri Quang 
appeared reasonable when in Saigon but less so when in Hue. When the Am- 
bassador queried Khanh about the progress of the recruiting effort, Khanh said 
that it was not going as well as he would like. With respect to the new pacifica- 
tion plan, HOP TAC, that had been agreed upon, the Ambassador expressed his 
approval of the general idea because paramilitary forces existed in this area 
to relieve ARVN. The Ambassador next took up the question of high desertion 
rates to which Khanh appears to have replied rather fuzzily. He said that the 
problem was complicated by many factors, that the Vietnamese liked to serve 
near home and sometimes left one service to join another. He implied that the 
figures might not mean exactly what they seemed to mean. 

The lively interest of the President at this time was indicated by his 10 July 
request directly to the Ambassador for a coordinated Country Team report at 
the end of each month to show "where we stand in the process of increasing 
the effectiveness of our military, economic, information, and intelligence pro- 
grams, just where the Khanh government stands in the same fields, and what 
progess we are making in the effort to mesh our work with theirs along the lines 
of your talk with General Khanh. 

Five days later on 15 July, Ambassador Taylor transmitted estimates (not 
the monthly report) of VC strength which raised the previous estimate from 
28,000 to 34,000. In so doing he explained that this was not a sudden and dra- 
matic increase, but rather amounted to acceptance of the existence of units that 
had been suspected for two or three years but for which confirming evidence 
had only recently been received. 

This increased estimate of enemy strength and recent upward trend in 
VC activity in the North should not occasion over-concern. We have been 
coping with this strength for some time without being accurately aware of 
its dimensions. 

The figures were interpretable as a reminder, however, of the growing magnitude 
of the problem, and of the need to raise the level of GVN/US effort. As a result 
the Ambassador commented that he was expediting formulation of additional 
requirements to support the plans in the ensuing months. 

For a while, there was a serious effort to coordinate USOM-GVN planning, 
and on 17 July 1964, USOM met with Khanh, Hoan, Oanh and others — a 
group Khanh called the National Security Council. This cooperation was ap- 
proved, as well as cooperation between USIS and the GVN information office — a 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 81 

more sensitive problem. On 23 July 1964, Taylor and Khanh discussed this co- 
operation in another NSC meeting and it was agreed that, to facilitate things, 
mutual bureaucratic adjustments would be made. In this same meeting of 23 
July, Khanh revived his pressure for offensive operations against North Vietnam 
and expressed again his impatience with the long pull of counterinsurgency and 
pacification programs. 

This reopening of the "march to the north" theme on 23 July was not the first 
revival. On 19 July, General Ky had talked to reporters about plans for opera- 
tions in Laos, and on the same day Khanh himself had made indiscreet remarks 
about "march to the north" at a unification rally in Saigon. This led to stories 
and editorials in the Saigon press. The Ambassador protested the campaign as 
looking like an effort to force the hand of the U.S. This became a central pre- 
occupation of Ambassador Taylor thereafter. He firmly opposed Khanh's pressure 
on the one hand, and on the other had argued for patience with the GVN even 
though the GVN defense ministry put out an embarrassing press release im- 
mediately after the long Taylor-Khanh talk which followed on 24 July 1964. 

The political pressures in Saigon were at that time increasing vastly. Both 
Khanh and other top Vietnamese politicians and political generals were reacting 
in increasingly strong ways. The very evident instability of the current regime 
increased rapidly and at the same time there was a tendency to try to escape 
from the dilemmas posed within South Vietnam by actions against North Viet- 
nam, actions which it had been hoped would lead to a unity within South Viet- 
nam impossible under the current circumstances. There was a CAS report, for 
instance, of coup plotting on 24 July that said a decision had been made by the 
generals to remove Khanh, but that it was not clear who would replace him or 
whether the planned removal would be opposed. This was the same day that the 
Ambassador, who had scarcely been in Saigon a fortnight, had first protested to 
Khanh concerning his indiscreet remarks about a march to the north. The Am- 
bassador also talked to Khanh, following the Mission Council meeting, concern- 
ing the rumors of a possible coup. Khanh said that because he (Taylor — i.e., the 
U.S.) had imposed Minh on the MRC as Chief of State, and because of Minh's 
support of Generals Kim and Xuan and other partisans of French neutralist 
policies. Defense Minister Khiem and Chief of State Thieu were leading a group 
that was pressing Khanh to get rid of Minh. This Khiem block was permeated 
by Dai Viet political influence. Khanh asked Taylor if he should resign. Taylor 
said the USG could not contemplate the consequences of another change of gov- 
ernment. Because no other leader was in sight, Khanh had our support and he 
must continue in the face of adversity. "Could we help?" Taylor inquired. Khanh 
asked that we let it be known that we wanted no more changes of government 
and asked Taylor to talk to Khiem and his supporters about the bad effects of 
politics in the armed forces. 

One means of demonstrating U.S. support of Khanh was to let Khanh make 
the first announcement of increased U.S. aid, followed by a background state- 
ment by the Ambassador. To carry this out, the Ambassador submitted a draft 
statement for Khanh to use. One part of this draft statement mentioned the in- 
crease of U.S. military advisors and their extension "to the district level." When 
Taylor and Johnson discussed this with Khanh at Dalat two days later, Khanh 
saw advantages to the proclamation in general, but preferred to change the refer- 
ence "advisors at the district level" to read "advisors throughout the provinces," 
because the original suggested an undesirably deep penetration of the GVN by 
the U.S. 

When Ambassador Taylor on 25 July reported further on Khanh's revival of 

82 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol III 

the march to the north theme, he interpreted it as response to political and morale 
problems within South Vietnam. The Ambassador suggested several possible 
motivations, and commented that if Khanh had been reasonably sincere his ob- 
jective probably was to : 

. . . talk "march north" but really have in mind getting U.S. committed 
to program of reprisal bombing. Such a limited program could be first step 
to further escalation against Hanoi. [Doc. 58] 

On 10 August, when the storm clouds had already appeared but before the 
gale had begun to blow. Ambassador Taylor filed his first monthly U.S. mission 
report. The report began by expressing surprise that the first sampling of advisor- 
level opinion revealed more optimism than among the senior U.S. officials in 
Saigon. Following this preliminary flourish, the report gave an introductory 
definition of the problem which was, in simplest terms, that the Hanoi/NLF 
startegy was not to defeat GVN military forces in battle but rather to harass and 
terrorize the SVN population and leadership into a state of such demoralization 
that a political settlement favorable to NVN would ensue. At that point they 
could proceed by stages to the full attainment of their goals. To oppose this 
strategy, the Khanh government had a complex not only of military programs, 
but of social, economic, psychological and above all administrative programs. 
This complex of programs Taylor reported on under three captions: "Political," 
"Military" and "Overall." On the political side he reported: 

The most important and most intractable internal problem of South 
Vietnam in meeting the Viet Cong threat is the political structure at the na- 
tional level. The best thing that can be said about the Khanh government is 
that it has lasted six months and has about a 50-50 chance of lasting out the 
year, although probably not without some changed faces in the Cabinet. 
Although opposed by Minh and resisted less openly by Dai Viet sympa- 
thizers among the military. Prime Minister Khanh seems for the time being 
to have the necessary military support to remain in power. However, it is 
an ineffective government beset by inexperienced ministers who are also 
jealous and suspicious of each other . . . 

On the positive side, Khanh seems to have allayed the friction between 
Buddhists and Catholics at least for the moment, has won the cooperation 
of the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai, and has responded to our suggestions for 
improved relations between the GVN and the U.S. mission . . . 
. . . Khanh has not succeeded in building any substantial body of active 
popular support in the countryside. In the countryside . . . that support 
for the GVN exists in direct proportion to the degree of security established 
by government forces . . . 

The intriguing inside his government and the absence of dramatic mili- 
tary or political successes react upon Khanh . . . moody . . . subjective 
to fits of despondency. Seeing the slow course of the counterinsurgency 
campaign frustrated by the weakness of his government, Khanh has turned 
to the "march north" theme to unify the home front and to offset the war 
weariness which he asserts is oppressing his people and his forces. . . . 
The state of mind of Khanh and his colleagues would be an important 
factor in the future conduct of the war, Taylor judged. 

They found slow, hard-slugging contest fatiguing to their spirits. The reprisals 
of 5 August (Tonkin Gulf) had given them a lift, but if indecisive bloodshed 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 83 

with the VC continued, they would probably exert continuing and increasing 
pressure for direct attack upon Hanoi. 

Concerning pacification, the Ambassador observed that the most ditficul|fpart 
of the program was the civilian follow-up after the clearing operation ini^^ 
clear-and-hold program. The difficulty stemmed from the inefficiency of the 
ministries. To energize these civilian functions, USOM had increased its provin- 
cial representation from 45 in March to 64 in July, but this was still insufficient, 
despite the judgment of critical inefficiency in the ministries. Taylor next reported 
that "U.S. observers reported in July that in about % of the provinces GVN 
provincial and district officers were performing effectively. . . ." It was too soon 
to go into details regarding Hop Tac, and the report on that program was in 
effect a description of its objectives and rationale rather than a progress report. 

The Ambassador reported that on the military side, the personnel strength of 
RVNAF and of the paramilitary forces was slowly rising and by January should 
reach about 98 percent of the target strength of 446,000. COMUSMACV had 
reported at the end of July that the actual GVN strength stood at 219,954 
RVNAF, 88,560 Regional Forces (formerly Civil Guard), and 127,453 Popular 
Forces (formerly Self Defense Corps). 



As already noted, the Ambassador's first monthly report was filed just before 
the internal Vietnamese political storm broke in full force. Through the late 
spring and into July of 1964, the Buddhist-Catholic quarrel intensified. Students 
again began to demonstrate in Saigon and Hue. By July a coup plot was develop- 
ing against Khanh led by his disgruntled Vice Premier, Dr. Nguyen Ton Hoan, 
who was backed by the Dai Viet and several top military leaders. But according 
to one of the best authorities, known U.S. opposition to a coup made its leaders 
hesitate and nothing immediately developed. Then came the Tonkin Gulf affair 
of 2-4 August, and the U.S. retaliatory strikes of 4-5 August. 

An immediate effect of the raids was to shore up Khanh's weakening position. 
But contrary to prevailing theories and hopes, stability was very short-lived. 
Khanh sought to exploit the affair by a radio appeal for unity and national disci- 
pline. He did not arrest the coup plotters however, which many Vietnamese — but 
not the U.S. Embassy — advised. Instead, on 7 August, he announced a state of 
emergency, reimposed censorship and other prescriptions and restrictions on liber- 
ties and movements of the Vietnamese people. 

Apparently hoping to further exploit the opportunity, Khanh hurriedly sought 
to draw up a new charter to centralize and increase his powers. On 12 August | 
he discussed this for the_first time with Ambassador Taylor. The Ambassador 
made two comments, one suggesting caution lest "renewed instability . . . result 
from these sweeping changes," the other urging a public explanation of the need 
for the changes because of a state of emergency. 

Two days later at a joint NSC planning session, Khanh showed Ambassador 
Taylor a rough translation of the proposed draft of a new charter. It was hastily 
drawn and included both dubious provisions and gruff language. The Ambassador 
was immediately afraid this would lead to cr iticism in the U.S. and the world 
press; he assigned Sullivan and Manfull to work on a revision. But they had 
little time and were unable to exert much influence. A day later, Ajugust 15, the 
Ambassador reported the document still did not satisfy him but that the MRC 

84 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

j fully intended to impose it and he saw no alternative to trying to make the best 
\ of it. Certain passages evidently had been toned down and something resembling 
^^^^^^i^ill of rights inserted. Nevertheless the charter gave virtu^llyjcomplete power 
^hanh. A special session of the MRC approved Khanh's new "cKarf'ef and 
elected him President. Minh was expediently removed: the charter abolished his 
job as Chief of State. Since his overthrow at the end of January Minh had been 
inactive and sulky; but whatever his faults he had a considerable following 
within South Vietnam. It had been American policy to convince Khanh to bring 
Minh into his government thereby endowing the Khanh regime with some of 
Minh's popularity. Khanh had acceded to U.S. wishes. But Minh's presence had 
not yielded the hoped for unity. Ambassador Taylor, Minh's friend for several 
years, had attempted to patch up the deteriorating relations between the two 
generals but these efforts only incurred Khanh's suspicion of Taylor. 

In the period immediately following the Tonkin Gulf affair, Washington offi- 
cials sought agreement on Southeast Asian policies. We were entering a new era. 
On 14 August, State cabled a summary of a tentative policy paper to Saigon, 
Vientiane and CINCPAC for comment. The paper began by stating that during 
the n ext fortnig ht no precipitate actions that might relieve the Communists of 
the onus of further escalation should be taken. DESOTO patrols should Jie held 
up; there should be no extra 34A operations. But low morale and lost momentum 
in SVN had to be treated. The best means to improve morale in South Vietnam 
and at the same time pressure North Vietnam at the lowest level of risk had to 
be found. This was the guiding philosophy. Basically required were military 
pressures plus other actions to convince Hanoi and Peking to cease aggression. 
Negotiation without continued military pressure would not achieve these objec- 
tives. The paper listed seven [words illegible] those already exerted, then dis- 
cussed more serious actions. Lesser pressures, it was stated, were to relay the 
(^hre^t^fsystematic, military action against the DRV. Hanoi was to be informed 
' that inciH^ts arising from the lesser actions or deterioration in South Vietnam 
— particularly clear evidence of increased infiltration from the North — could 
tT[gger_that_susta^^ action. In any case, for planning purposes the paper looked 

to_J January 1965,^s the starting point for the more serious systematic pres- 
' sures. 

The Mission comment took the form of an alternative draft. It began by agree- 
ing with the assumption of the proposed Department paper, that the present 
pacification plan, by itself, was insufficient to maintain national morale or to offer 
reasonable hope of eventual success. Something more was clearly needed. The 
main problem in the immediate future was to gain time for the Khanh regime 
to achieve a modicum of stability and thereby provide a viable base for opera- 

In particular, if we can avoid it, we should not get involved militarily 
widi North Vietnam or possibly^ jyiJh™B£d...China if our base in South 
Vietnam Is insecure and Khanh's Army is tied down by the VC insurgency. 

A second objective was to maintain the morale of the GVN. The mission judged 
that this would not be diflflcult if we could assure Khanh of our readiness to bring 
added pressure on Hanoi in return for evidence of his ability and willingness to 
do his part. A third objective would be to hold the DRV in check and restrain 
^ further infiltration to aid the VC buildup. 

l^January 6 5 was agreed upon, for planning purposes, as the date to begin the 
escalating pressure on the DRV. Three aspects of these pressures were considered 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 85 

by the Mission: first, actions to be taken with the Khanh government; secoj|S^^^"» 
actions against Hanoi; and third, after a pause, "initiation of an orchestrated \iatai^MBB 
attack against North Vietnam." The first of these involved a commitment. "We 
should express our willingness to Khanh to engage in planning and eventually to 
exert intense pressure on North Vietnam providing certain conditions are met 
in advance." Thus, before we would agree to go all out against the North, Khanh 
must stabilize his government and make progress in cleaning out his own back- 
yard. Specifically, he would be required to execute the initial phases of the HOP 
TAC plan successfully. This would have to succeed to the extent of pushing the 
VC away from the doors of Saigon. Moreover, the overall pacification program, 
including HOP TAC, should progress sufficiently to allow earmarking at least 
three division equivalents for the defense of the I Corps area should the DRV 
step up military operations in that area. 

In making these commitments to Khanh, the Mission would make clear to 
Khanh the limited nature of our objectives — that we were not ready to join in 
a crusad e to uni fy, the North and the South, ng£_to_overthrow Ho Chi Minh. Our 
objective was to be limitecTjo inducing Hanoi to ceaselts'sLrbversivF^ffoH in the 
South. Pursuant of this philosophy, the Mission draft pmpose3~~a~ program 
roughly comparable to that suggested by Washington. The specific difference was i 
the emphasis in the Mission draft on the need for a stable base in South Vietnam 1 
before beginning overt pressures on the North; and, to effect this, the policy of a 1 
quid pro quo — getting Khanh to clean up his house and make some progress in 1 
pacification as the price of our commitment to pressures against the North. 

During the fast moving events of the third week of August, the President 
decided to bring Ambassador Taylor back to Washmgton for consultation early 
in September. In a joint State-Defense message on 20 August, Taylor was advised 
of questions that officials in various departments would want to ask during his 
forthcoming visit. The visit was first scheduled for the end of the month, but 
along with the draft policy paper of mid-month, the original plans were over- 
taken by political events (turmoil) in Vietnam, and the meeting was postponed 
about two weeks, from late August to mid-September. It is worth noting, never- 
theless, that among the items still prominent in the intended discussions with 
Taylor, at the time of the first notice of the meeting, were the status of pacifica- 
tion programs — HOP TAC especially — Corps, division and provincial plans; the 
joint US/GVN committees; the newly established operations center; the role of 
Popular Forces and of Regional Forces; and the RVNAF police and local secur- 
ity plans. Pacification was the first item, and detailed interest was indicated. 

Shaplen calls the week from 16^^Augusl — when Khanh publicly announced the 
new charter — to 23 August critical, because of Khanh's failure to establish a 
broadly based civilian government under the authority of the new charter. He 
had been warned by many Vietnamese that the pressures of civihan and religious 
demands for a voice in the government were building up, but nothing was done 
and majo£_demons^trations began again on 21 Au^ust.^ 

This account will not detail^tHe political events that occurred from 21 August 
on. However, to keep our American concern with programs in Vietnam in con- 
text it is necessary to keep in mind the general sequence of political events dur- 
ing the turmoil of the next several weeks. On 21 August the first serious student 
demonsration following the proclamation of the 16 August charter occurred. 
Khanh met with the students, but did not satisfy their demands. The same day 
Thich Tam Chau, President of the Buddhist Institute for Secular Affairs, de- 
manded that Khanh take action against the Diemist Can Lao Party, whom the ^ 
Buddhists alleged to be their oppressors. Both Buddhists and Viet Cong began 

86 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

^WHSkrate the fringes of the student demonstrations about this time. A confused, 
many-i^Wed contest developed with Catholics, Viet Cong and Buddhists seeking 
TO manipulate or exploit the student demonstrations. On 23 August the Buddhists 
in Hue formed a new Movement for the Salvation of Buddhism in Danger 
(similar to the organization against Diem). 

On the night of 24 August another coup rumor spread. It was later suspected 
that Dai Viet generals had indeed been ready to move that night, but that Khiem, 
who had been wavering between Khanh and the Dai Viet, told them to wait. 
That same night Khanh asked three top bonzes to come to Cap St. Jacques for 
consultation. They refused, and Khanh for his part rushed back to Saigon. He 
met with them and they demanded, first, abolition of the 16 August charter, 
second establishment of government councils to assure full freedom of religion 
and expression, and third, free elections by 1 November 1965. Khanh made the 
mistake of telling them he wanted to consult with the Americans. At 1:00 a.m. 
on 25 August, Ambassador Taylor and Deputy Ambassador Johnson met with 
Khanh and they "unofficially" advised him to accept the Buddhist demands in 
principle, but otherwise to be tough and not to knuckle under to any minority. 
The conference lasted until about 3:00 a.m. 

At 5:00 a.m. of 25 August, Khanh issued a communique promising to revise 
the new constitution, reduce press censorship, rectify local abuses by arranging 
special courts, and permit continued demonstrations, with the proviso that those 
responsible for actions of disorder be punished. 

But these concessions again were not enough to satisfy the students. Later that 
morning a crowd of 25,000 gathered in front of Khanh's office. Khanh appeared 
before them and denied that he wanted to be a dictator, but refused to make 
further concessions. He did not, however, have the crowd dispersed. Instead, he 
withdrew and then, without warning, issued an announcement from his military 
headquarters that the 16 August charter would be withdrawn and that he, Khanh, 
was quitting. Further, he announced that the MRC would meet the next day, 
26 August, to choose a new Chief of State. 

The MRC met on 26 and 27 August. Khanh brought in the three generals he 
had accused of participating in the pro-French neutralist plot, as a ploy to fore- 
stall a power bid by Minh. But the Council refused to seat them and they were 
returned to their protective custody at Dalat. While these maneuvers were going 
on street demonstrations continued. Within the MRC Khiem failed in an attempt 
to name himself Chief of State and Minh Prime Minister. Next Khanh was named 
Prime Minister, but refused to accept either Khiem or Minh as President. Finally, 
when he refused to be installed alone, the triumvirate of Khanh, Minh and Khiem 
was chosen. 

Anarchy in the streets of Saigon intensified. Khanh again nominally Prime 
Minister, was by this time back in Dalat in a state of exhaustion. The troika of 
Khanh, Minh and Khiem never met, and Nguyen Xuan Oanh was made acting 
Prime Minister. Rumors of coups continued — one supposedly by the Dai Viet, 
another by the so-called "colonels' Group." 

On 29 August 1964 Vietnamese paratroopers with bayonets were used to 
restore order in Saigon. At this time Khanh was in Dalat. On 1 September Gen- 
eral Westmoreland went to see Khanh in Dalat to urge him to keep ARVN on 
the offensive against the Viet Cong and to press on with HOP TAC and the other 
pacification programs. As a quid pro quo for this, Westmoreland revised his 
previous position, and promised that U.S. advisors throughout MACV would alert 
Khanh to unusual troop movements (movements which might be an indication 
of a coup). 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 87 

Meanwhile, because of this turmoil, Ambassador Taylor's trip to Washington 
had been postponed until the end of the first week of September. There was 
further excitement on the night of 2 September, when dissident troops, mostly 
aligned with Dai Viet leaders, began to converge on the city. But some of the 
Colonels' Group got wind of the movement and stopped the advance before 
midnight, stringing along with Khanh for the time being. Meanwhile, a new 
group had been formed in Hue called the People's Revolutionary Committee, 
which, according to Shaplen, had "distinct tones of separatism," and was verbally 
attacking the temporary government. On 4 September Khanh returned to Saigon 
from his Dalat retreat, and announced a tentative formula for new administrative 
machinery to take over for the next two months, after which a new government 
of civilians would replace the government of the military. Khanh was welcomed, 
and produced a letter, signed by both Thich Tri Quang and Thich Tam Chau, 
pledging support and unity. Reportedly this had been paid for by a sum equalling 
$230,000. Deals of this kind were by no means unknown in Vietnam. Khanh at 
this time finally got rid of Dr. Hoan, who had been plotting against him for a 
long time, by forcing his resignation and exile to Japan. Following this there was 
enough of a lull to permit the Ambassador to return to Washington. He would 
not complete the round trip, however, before turmoil erupted again in Saigon. 


On the eve of his 6 September departure for Washington, Ambassador Taylor 
cabled a review of the Vietnamese situation 

... At best the emerging governmental structure might be capable of 
maintaining a holding operation against the Viet Cong. This level of effort 
could, with luck and strenuous efforts, be expanded to produce certain limited 
pacification successes, for example, in the territory covered by the HOP TAC 
Plan. But the willingness and ability of such a government to exert itself or 
to attempt to execute an allout pacification plan would be marginal. It would 
probably be incapable of galvanizing the people to the heightened levels of 
unity and sacrifice necessary to carry forward the counterinsurgency pro- 
gram to final success. Instead, it would look increasingly to the United States 
to take the major responsibility for prying the VC and the North Vietnamese 
off the backs of the South Vietnamese population. ... In the cold light of 
recently acquired facts, we need 2 to 3 months to get any sort of govern- 
ment going which has any chance of being able to maintain order in the 
cities and to continue the pacification efforts of past levels. There is no 
present urge to march north ... the leadership is exhausted and frustrated 
. . . and not anxious to take on any new problems or obligations. Hence, 
there is no need to hasten our plans to satisfy an impatinece to close with 
the enemy . . . 

On 4 September the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International 
Security Affairs, Peter Solbert, forwarded to the Secretary of Defense a mem- 
orandum including a set of summary recommendations for a program of overall 
social development called "stability for the GVN." Copies of this memorandum 
were seen by both Vance and McNamara, but there is no documentary evidence 
that it was given serious consideration. The program was based on a longer 
RAND study by C. J. Zwick, and it proposed a series of measures to broaden 
popular support of the Government of Vietnam. The measures were divided into 

88 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol 111 

an Urban Program and a Rural Program. Summarily, under the Urban Program, 
there were six major areas of development: 

1. a reduction of consumer prices for selected commodities; 

2. an increase in government salaries; 

3. mass low cost public housing; 

4. urban public works; 

5. expanded educational programs; and 

6. an improved business climate to foster private business. 

Under the proposed Rural Program there were four items: 

1. an elimination of corvee labor and provision for paid public works; 

2. subsidized credit to peasants under GVN control; 

3. an increase in military pay and benefits; and 

4. educational assistance to rural youths. 

This memorandum further suggested that involving in the program the leaders 
of the various political factions in Vietnam who were currently causing trouble 
would indirectly enlist them in what amounted to stabilizing efforts, and the cur- 
rent plague of factionalism might be reduced. 

The policy decisions reached in the high level discussions of 7 September were 
formalized in NSAM-314. These decisions were approved: 

1. Resumption of U.S. Naval patrols (DESOTO) in the Gulf of Tonkin, 
following the return to Saigon of the Ambassador. 

2. 34A operations by the GVN to be resumed after completion of the first 
DESOTO patrol. 

3. Discussions with the government of Laos of plans for a limited GVN air- 
ground operation in the Laos corridor areas. 

4. Preparation to respond against the DRV to any attack on U.S. units or any 
spectacular DRV/VC acts against South Vietnam. 

Following the statement of these specific action decisions, NSAM-314 reem- 
phasized the importance of economic and political actions having immediate im- 
pact on South Vietnam such as pay raises to civilian personnel and spot projects 
in cities and selected rural areas. The emphasis on immediate impact should be 
noted. Finally, it was emphasized that all decisions were "governed by a prevail- 
ing judgment that the first order of business at present is to strengthen the fabric 
of the Government of South Vietnam . . ." 

In the period immediately after the August crisis, Minh, acting, in eff'ect, as 
Chief of State, although he did not actually hold the title, appointed a new High 
National Council to represent all elements of the population and prepare a new 
constitution for the return of civilian government. 

But there was no real stability. On 13 September, while Ambassador Taylor 
was on his way back to Saigon from his visit to Washington, a bloodless coup 
was staged in Saigon by General Lam Van Phat (who had been scheduled to be 
removed as Commander of IV Corps). Soon after the coup began the U.S. 
announced its support for the "duly constituted" troika regime of Khanh, Minh 
and Khiem. This plus a counter-coup by a group of younger officers including 
Nguyen Cao Ky and Nguyen Chanh Thi, put Khanh back in power. One result 
of the Phat coup attempt, however, was that it established the power of the 
younger general officers headed by Ky and Thi. Nguyen Van Thieu, who was 
close to the Dai Viet party, was reported to be a major behind-the-scenes manipu- 
lator of the coup, mainly by neutralizing his immediate boss. General Khiem. 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 89 

The next several weeks amounted to a period of suspended animation for the 
GVN (but not for the VC) while the new constitution was being prepared. Ex- 
cept for some debatable progress in HOP TAG, little was accomplished in pacifi- 
cation. Moreover, infusing an interim government with an efficiency that neither 
it nor any predecessor had had was too much to expect. In Saigon, much attention 
was given to establishing a policy coordination center for covert military opera- 
tions — i.e., 34A, Cross-Border, Yankee Team, Lucky Dragon, etc. These opera- 
tions, and the political problems of the central government, appear to have been 
the principal immediate concerns of the Embassy during this period. 

In October, Washington queried the Embassy as to whether greater progress 
in pacification might result from further decentralization of the program, even 
raising the question of whether aid might not bypass the GVN in Saigon and go 
directly to the provinces. In reply, the Mission conceded that a good deal of de- 
centralization was already in effect and that in some provinces local initiative 
was paying off. Progress was continuing despite the turmoil in Saigon. Neverthe- 
less, recent U.S. advisor reports showed that the number of provinces where 
pacification was not going satisfactorily had doubled since July — from 7 to 14. 
This in part was due to concentration of most of the pacification efforts on HOP 
TAG, and in part to the political turmoil in Saigon. However, the Mission did 
not believe that further decentralization was either feasible or advisable. The 
central problem in administering pacification, in the considered view of the Mis- 
sion, was to establish justified requirements at the provincial level and then fill 
pipelines to meet these provincial needs. This required overall coordination. 

Two weeks after the 13 September coup, the High National Gouncil, composed 
of 17 elderly professional men, was inaugurated. Despite the continuing air of 
crisis, the Gouncil fulfilled its promise to deliver a new constitution by the end of 
October and selected Phan Khac Suu (an older, non-aligned politician) as the 
new Ghief of Staff. Suu immediately chose a civilian, Tran Van Huong, as new 
Premier. Huong almost immediately came under fire from several factions and 
it soon became apparent that Khanh was still the real power behind the throne. 
Khanh got rid of Khiem, sending him to Washington, and Minh went abroad on 
a "goodwill tour." 

As the year moved toward a close it came time again for the Ambassador to 
return to Washington for policy consultations. Progress in the program within 
South Vietnam had been spotty at best, and in many areas retrogression could 
not be denied. The efforts to develop efficient administration within the GVN 
had made no progress at all — the game of musical chairs at the top made this 
impossible. It was generally conceded that pacification had fallen back, at best 
marking time in some areas. As for the HOP TAG area immediately surrounding 
Saigon, opinions were divided. The official view reflected in the statistical analysis 
was that slow but steady progress was being made. Most of the informal and local 
judgments, however, were less sanguine. Some increases in RVNAF recruitment 
had been registered, but this did not mean that action against the VG had im- 
proved, that capabilities had increased, that lost ground was being retaken, or 
that control of the rural population was being wrested from the Viet Gong. 


In anticipation of the Ambassador's forthcoming visit to Washington, General 
Westmoreland provided an assessment of the military situation. On 24 November 
General Westmoreland observed that in September the Mission had been pre- 
occupied with the problem of keeping RVNAF intact in the face of internal 

90 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

dissention and political and religious purges but by late November he was pleased 
at the way the RVNAF had weathered the political storm and encouraged by 
increased RVNAF strength because of volunteers and enlistments. RVNAF 
strength of 31 October was compared to figures for 30 April: 230,474 RVNAF, 
up from 207,410; 92,265 Regional Forces, up from 85,660; 159,392 Popular 
Forces, up from 96,263. During September and October, RVNAF and Regional 
Forces officers and NCOs to the rank of first corporal had received a 10% 
increase in basic pay; the lowest three enlisted grades in these forces — plus all 
Popular Force personnel — had received 300 more piastres per month. Cost of 
living increases to NCOs matched those given to officers. Subsector U.S. advisory 
teams (two officers, three enlisted men) were operating in some 75 districts. 
General Westmoreland reported HOP TAC was progressing slowly. Civil-military- 
political planners were working together; the Saigon-level coordinating group, 
the HOP TAC Council, was operating. 

General Westmoreland summarized the key issues as he viewed them at the 
time. First, there was a need to establish concrete but attainable shortrange goals 
to give momentum; second, more effective means of asserting U.S. policy and 
plans for the pacification program at the Saigon level was needed; third, the 
U.S. should take a positive position against external support of the insurgency. 

Also on 24 November, Westmoreland recommended an increase in RVNAF 
force structure and requested its early approval to permit official negotiations 
with the GVN, to facilitate MAP planning. This recommendation followed a 
joint U.S./GVN survey and a COMUSMACV staff study. Two alternative levels 
of increase were proposed: 


Increase New Total 

Authorized Alt I Alt 2 Alt 1 Alt 2 

RVNAF 243,599 30,309 47,556 273,908 291,155 

Para Mil No alt. for Para. 322,187 


212,246 109,941 

The increase in U.S. advisors for the two alternative programs would be 446 
and 606, respectively. The first (the lower) alternative was supported by the JCS 
on 17 December 1964 and approved by Secretary McNamara on 13 January 
1965. This January decision raised the total U.S. military personnel in Vietnam 
from 22,309 to 22,755. 

Both the tenor of the thinking and the policies that emerged from the meetings 
of early December are reflected in the draft instructions from the President to 
Ambassador Taylor possibly written by Taylor himself. These were first drawn 
up on 30 November 1964, revised on 2 December and used at the meeting of the 
principals on 3 December. 

During the recent review in Washington of the situation in South Vietnam, 
it was clearly established that the unsatisfactory progress being made in the 
pacification of the VC was the result of two primary causes from which 
many secondary causes stemmed; first, the governmental instability in Saigon 
and the second, the continued reinforcement and direction of the VC by the 
North Vietnamese government. To change the downward trend of events, it 
will be necessary to deal adequately with both of these factors. 
It is clear however that these factors are not of equal importance. There 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 196 3- Apr. 1965 91 

must be a stable, effective government to conduct a campaign against the 
VC even if the aid of North Vietnam for the VC should end. While the 
elimination of North Vietnamese intervention will raise morale on our side 
and make it easier for the government to function, it will not in itself end 
the war against the VC. It is rather an important contributory factor to the 
creation of conditions favoring a successful campaign against the VC within 
South Vietnam. Since action against North Vietnam is contributory, not cen- 
tral, we should not incur the risks which are inherent in expansion of hos- 
tilities until there is a government in Saigon capable of handling the serious 
problems involved in such an expansion and of exploiting the favorable 
effects which may be anticipated from an end of support and direction by 
North Vietnam. 

It is this consideration which has borne heavily on the recent deliberations 
in Washington and has conditioned the conclusions reached. There have 
been many expressions of admiration for the courage being shown by the 
Huong government which has the complete support of the U.S. government 
in its resistance to the minority pressures which are attempting to drag it 
down. However, the difficulties which it is facing raise inevitable questions 
as to its capacity and readiness to discharge the responsibilities which it 
would incur if some of the new measures under consideration were taken. 
There are certain minimum criteria of performance in South Vietnam which 
must be met before any new measures against North Vietnam would be either 
justified or practicable. At a minimum the government should be able to 
speak for and to its people who will need guidance and leadership through- 
out the coming critical period. It should be capable of maintaining law and 
order in its principal centers of population, make plans for the conduct of 
operations and assure their efficient execution by military and police forces 
completely responsive to its authority. It must have the means to cope with 
the enemy reactions which must be expected to result from any change in 
the pattern of our operations. 

I (the President) particularly request that you and your colleagues in the 
American Country Team develop and execute a concerted effort to bring 
home to all groups in South Vietnam the paramount importance of national 
unity against the Communist enemy at this critical time. It is a matter of the 
greatest difficulty for the U.S. government to require great sacrifice of Amer- 
ican citizens when reports from Saigon reportedly give evidence of heedless 
self-interest and shortsightedness among nearly all major groups in South 
Vietnam . . . 

While effectiveness is largely a subjective judgement, progress in certain 
specific areas such as those listed below provide some tangible measure. The 
U.S. mission should urge upon the GVN particular efforts in these 
fields. . . . 

( 1 ) Improve the use of manpower for military and pacification purposes. 

(2) Bring the armed forces and police to authorized strength and max- 
imize their effectiveness. 

(3) Replace incompetent officials and commanders; freeze the competent 
in place for extended periods of service. 

(4) Clarify and strengthen police powers of arrest, detention, and interro- 
gation of VC suspects. 

(5) Clarify and strengthen the authority of provincial chiefs. 

(6) Make demonstrable progress in the HOP TAC operation around 

92 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

(7) Broaden and intensify the civic action program using both mihtary 
and civihan resources to produce tangible evidence of the desire of the gov- 
ernment to help the hamlets and villages. 

(8) Carry out a sanitary clean up of Saigon. 

While progress was being made toward these goals, the U.S. would be willing 
to strike harder at infiltration routes in Laos and at sea and, in conjunction with 
the Lao Government, add U.S. air power to operations to restrict the use of 
Laotian territory for infiltration into South Vietnam. The U.S. would also favor 
intensification of MAROPS (covert activities against the DRV). In the mean- 
time, GVN and U.S. armed forces should be ready to execute prompt reprisals 
for any unusual hostile action. When these conditions were met (and after the 
GVN had demonstrated its firm control) the U.S. would be prepared to consider 
a program of direct military pressure on the DRV. These second phase operations 
would consist of a series of air attacks on the DRV progressively mounting in 
scope and intensity for the purpose of convincing DRV leaders that it was in 
their interest to cease aid to the VC, to respect the independence and security 
of the South. The prospective participants in such attacks were the Air Forces of 
the U.S., South Vietnam and Laos. The U.S. Mission was to be authorized to 
initiate planning with the GVN for such operations immediately, with the under- 
standing that the U.S. had not committed itself to them. 

Immediately after the Ambassador's return to Saigon the U.S. began to in- 
crease its covert operations against infiltration from the North. On 14 December 
U.S. aircraft began Operation BARREL ROLL (armed reconnaissance against 
infiltration routes in Laos). This and other signs of increased American commit- 
ment against North Vietnam's involvement in the South showed no results in 
terms of increasing GVN stability. Jockeying among generals behind the scenes 
continued. The younger generals who had saved Khanh in the 13 September 
coup demanded the High National Council fire nine generals and 30 other of- 
ficers, notably Generals Minh, Don, Xuan and Kim, who had been in the original 
post-Diem junta. The Council refused and the young generals began a life and 
death struggle against the Huong regime. On 20 December Generals Thi and Ky 
led their group in a purge — or virtual coup — of the Council. This was followed 
immediately by formation of an Armed Forces Council (AFC). Nominally 
headed by Khanh, the young generals aimed to curb his powers through the new 
council. AFC offered to mediate conflicts between Buddhist dissidents and the 
Huong government. These actions exacerbated already unhappy relations be- 
tween Khanh and politically motivated young generals and the American Am- 
bassador who was striving to foster a representative civilian government and 
discourage coups by small-time military dictators. The struggle (described in 
detail in other papers) was intensified at this time and continued for several 

Throughout January and February 1965 the weekly Vietnam Sitreps pub- 
lished by the Intelligence and Reporting Subcommittee of the Interagency Viet- 
nam Coordinating Committee warned generally and repeatedly that progress 
concerning pacification was "slow" or that there was a "slow down" or said 
there was "little progress to report." The Vietnamese commander of the HOP 
TAC area generally continued to report "a favorable situation" — but this was 
accompanied frequently by a statement of increased Viet Cong activity in these 
favorable areas. 

After BARREL ROLL, U.S. pressure upon North Vietnam was notably in- 
creased by the FLAMING DART attacks of 7-12 February following the 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 93 

Pleiku incident. The McGeorge Bundy group (MacNaughton, Cooper, Unger 
and Bundy) were in Saigon at the time. On the return trip to Washington shortly 
after Pleiku, the group drafted a memorandum for the President. Intended to 
reflect the consensus of policy discussions with the Mission, the memorandum 
really reflects Bundy's point of view, particularly in presentation of a rationale 
for ROLLING THUNDER operations — soon to begin. Analysis of this memo 
and the ROLLING THUNDER annex is part of another report in this series. 
For present purposes it is sufficient to note that the memo reported the situation 
in Vietnam was deteriorating and said defeat was inevitable unless the United 
States intervened military by bombing the North to persuade Hanoi to cease 
and desist. South Vietnam was to be rescued not by measures in South Vietnam 
but by pressures against the North. 

The idea that victory could be achieved quickly was explicitly dismissed: 
perhaps "the next year or so" would be enough to turn the tide. And this, hope- 
fully, could be accomplished by the persuasive power of aerial bombardment. 

ROLLING THUNDER was to be a program of sustained, continuous, in- 
creasing reprisal beginning at a low level and becoming increasingly violent. 
The level of violence would vary according to the North Vietnamese response: 
if they persisted in infiltration, violence would continuously increase; if they 
reduced their meddling, we would respond in kind and degree. 

This subject had been discussed at considerable length in Saigon. The Bundy 
memorandum was followed by a cable from Taylor which presented generally 
similar recommendations under the heading of "graduated reprisals." CINCPAC 
commented on the Taylor proposals, urging that the levels of attack should be 
forceful enough to be militarily effective, not merely politically persuasive. On 8 
February, McNamara requested the ICS to develop a program; shortly there- 
after they produced their "Eight-week-Program" of bombing. 

In Saigon, the FLAMING DART bombings of 7-12 February — the first 
reprisal bombings since August 1964 — were promptly followed by the Armed 
Forces Council selection on 16 February of a new cabinet; headed by Dr. Pham 
Huy Quat, the cabinet was installed on 18 February. Another coup was at- 
tempted on 19 February but thwarted by the AFC. And General Khanh (whose 
actions against Huong in January had lost him Taylor's confidence) was re- 
moved on the 20th. Four days later, 24 February, Khanh left for foreign parts 
and ROLLING THUNDER began. Any positive correlation between U.S. 
pressure on North Vietnam and the stability of the GVN remained to be 

During these first two months of 1965 almost no progress was made toward 
increasing RVNAF strength. Goals were raised but actual force levels were not. 
MACV data on RVNAF strength were later provided the Secretary: 


Jan 65 

Feb 65 

Mar 65 

Apr 65 

May 65 


252 A 



























94 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

Although the conditions stipulated in December had not been met, although 
the program continued to fall further behind, we were fully committed to 
pressure on the North by this time. On 1 March 1965, in a memorandum to all 
Service Secretaries, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Chief of Naval Operations, 
Army and Air Force Chiefs of Staff and Commandant of the Marine Corps, 
the Secretary of Defense pledged unlimited funds to the support of the Vietnam 

Over the past two or three years I have emphasized the importance of 
providing all necessary military assistance to South Vietnam, whether it be 
through MAP or through application of U.S. forces and their associated 

Occasionally instances come to my attention indicating that some in the 
Department feel restraints are imposed by limitations of funds. 
I want it clearly understood that there is an unlimited appropriation avail- 
able for the financing of aid to Vietnam. Under no circumstances is a lack 
of money to stand in the way of aid to that nation. 

signed/Robert S. McNamara 

Early in March the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Harold K. Johnson, 
evaluated the need for added supporting actions in Vietnam. On 5 March his 
party was briefed by the Ambassador. Taylor saw the basic unresolved problem 
as the provision of adequate security for the population. Without it, other 
programs were either impossible or of marginal effectiveness at best. Given 
security and reasonable time, however, these other programs would fall into 
place. The three primary causes of insecurity were (1) lack of satisfactory 
progress in destroying the VC, (2) the continuing capability of the VC to re- 
place losses and increase their strength, and (3) our inability to establish and 
maintain an effective government. 

Inability to suppress the insurgency was considered largely the consequence 
of insufficient trained paramilitary and police manpower. A numerical superiority 
in excess of five to one over the VC had never been obtained; historical example 
suggested a 10-to-l or 20-to-l ratio was prerequisite to effective operations 
against guerrilla forces. It was therefore essential to raise new forces and im- 
prove those already in being. 

Why was the pacification program of such limited effectiveness? In many 
provinces the reason was poor — or non-existent — civil action after military 
clearing operations. The Ministries of Interior, Health, Agriculture, Public 
Works and Rural Affairs were responsible for civilian "follow-up" but these 
departments had been impotent throughout 1964, largely because of general 
government instability. Programs lacked continuity; personnel were constantly 
rotating. Occasional military successes achieved in clearing operations too fre- 
quently went unexploited. Areas were cleared but not held. Other areas were 
cleared and held — but were not developed; the VC infra-structure remained in 
place, ready to emerge when the troops moved on. 

Counterinsurgency was plagued by popular apathy and dwindling morale, 
some the consequences of a long and seemingly endless war. There was no 
sense of dedication to the GVN comparable to that instilled in the VC. 

Secondly, South Vietnam's open frontiers could not be sealed against infiltra- 
tion. Continued DRV support to the VC, the heart of the infiltration problem, 
could not be eliminated by closing the frontiers from inside South Vietnam so 
the only way to stop infiltration was to make Hanoi order it stopped. Such was 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 95 

the fundamental justification for BARREL ROLL and ROLLING THUNDER 
operations. These, plus 34A, constituted the principal hope for ending in- 

It was conceded that even without its support from the North the VC could 
continue to recruit in the South, especially in areas lacking security and com- 
mitment to Saigon. However, it was hoped that pressure on Hanoi would help 
to change many conditions unfavorable to the GVN. For example, offensive 
action against NVN would raise national morale in South Vietnam and might 
provide at least a partial antidote against the willingness of country boys to 
join the VC. 

There were many causes of the failure to establish and maintain an effective 
government. South Vietnam had never been a nation in spirit; a government 
which the people could call their own was new to them. Even now their instinct 
said any government was intrinsically their enemy. The people had long been 
divided by racial and religious differences which over the centuries their alien 
rulers had sought to perpetuate. No cement was present to bind together the 
heterogeneous elements of this society. Since the fall of Diem and the sudden 
removal of the restraints imposed by his dictatorial regime, the natural tendency 
to disunity and factionalism had been given free play; demonstrations, bonze 
immolations and military coups had been rife. These had produced the political 
turbulence of the last fifteen months. 

The Ambassador closed his briefing by suggesting the possibility of increased 
activities in several areas: 

a. improvement in training and mobility of existing forces; 

b. establishment of priorities in the use of existing forces; 

c. expansion of the capacity of the training establishment; 

d. means to give greater attractiveness to military service; 

e. use of U.S. manpower to offset the present shortage in the Vietnamese 
armed forces; 

f. use of U.S. Navy resources to strengthen surveillance of coastal and inland 

g. increased tempo for BARREL ROLL and ROLLING THUNDER; 

h. expanded use of peoples action teams; 

i. increased U.S. aid in combatting economic ills; 

j. preparations to cope with the mounting refugee problem in central Vietnam; 
k. improved procedures and equipment for resource control; 
1. vitalization of public information programs, provision of a 250-kilowatt 
transmitter for Saigon; and 

m. prompt response to all personnel requests supporting the U.S. mission. 

General Johnson returned on 12 March, submitted his report on the 14th. The 
guts of the report, a series of 21 recommendations plus an indication of marginal 
comments Secretary McNamara scribbled on his copy follow (the Secretary's 
comments are in parentheses) : 

L Provide increased mobility for existing forces by introducing more 
Army helicopter companies. (OK) 

2. Deploy more 0-1 type aircraft to give saturation surveillance capa- 
bility to improve intelligence. (OK) 

3. Establish Joint U.S.-RVNAF Target Research and Analysis Center to 
utilize increased info effectively. (OK) 

4. Evaluate effects of COMUSMACV's unrestricted employment of 
U.S. fighter-bombers within SVN. (?) 

96 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

5. Increase scope and tempo of U.S. air strikes against NVN. (Discuss 
with Chiefs.) 

6. Remove self imposed restrictions on conduct of U.S. air strikes against 
North Vietnam. (Some already removed. Views of Chiefs.) 

7. Increase tempo and scope of special operations activities against North 
Vietnam. (Ask Max for plan.) 

8. Increase Naval and air RECCE and harassing operations against 
North Vietnam. (Ask Max for plan.) 

9. Re-orient BARREL ROLL to increase effectiveness. (OK) 

10. Commit elements of 7th Fleet to air/surface patrol of coastal areas. 
(OK, ask Max for plan.) 

11. Program of cash awards for capture of DRV junks. (OK, ask Max 
for plan.) 

12. Streamline procedure to give MACV quick authority and funds for 
construction projects in VN. (See 13) 

13. Establish stockpile of construction materials and equipment within 3 
to 4 sailing days of VN controlled by MACV. (Applicable to both 12 and 
13 — John to work with Paul and Charlie.) [ASD/ISA, SecDef and SecArmy 

14. Get Australian/New Zealand agreement to take responsibility for 
establishing regional forces training center. (Ask State to try.) 

15. Integrated U.S./GVN psychological warfare operations organization. 
(USIA job — DOD will help.) 

16. Accelerate positioning of remaining sub-sector advisory teams. (OK — 
ask Max his requirements.) 

17. Provide cash contingency fund to each sub-sector advisory group. 
(OK — ask Max for his plan.) 

18. Establish procedure for sub-sector advisory groups to draw on USOM 
food stuffs and building materials. (OK — ask Max for his plan.) 

19. Initiate dredging projects at Danang, Qui Nhon and Nha Trang. (OK 
— ask Max for his requirements.) 

20. Provide 4 LSTs and 6 LSVs for logistic support along east-west supply 
axis. (OK — ask Max for his requirements.) 

21. Accelerate program for jet applicable airfield. (What is the program? 
— John will follow.) 

To the measures the Secretary added one of his own: "extend tours." It was 
incorporated into later versions of the list. 

In addition to the above the Johnson report suggested two alternative deploy- 
ments of a tailored division force to assist Vietnamese units in offensive action 
in II Corps. One was to deploy U.S. combat units to assume responsibility for 
security of the Bien Hoa-Tan Son Nhut air base complex, Nha Trang, Qui Nhon 
and Pleiku. The second was to deploy U.S. combat units to assume responsibility 
for defense of Kontum, Pleiku and Darlac provinces in II Corps. On the first 
alternative the Secretary noted: "Johnson does not recommend this"; he sug- 
gested that ICS should study, and "Max's and Westy's views" toward the second 
alternative should be sought. 

On 8 March, when Johnson was in Vietnam, the first two Marine battalions 
landed at Danang. Almost all of the intelligence reports during that month indi- 
cated our programs in Vietnam were either stalemated or failing. Not only was 
RVNAF strength considerably below the goals set and agreed upon, it was in 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 97 

considerable danger of actually decreasing. The situation on this score was indi- 
cated by the following table included in the March MACV report. 


28 Feb 65 

31 March 65 


Audited Strength 


Regular Force 




Regional Force 




Popular Force 




Coastal Force 








National Police 




Armed Combat Youth 



Although some HOP TAC progress was occasionally reported the pacification 
situation otherwise was quite gloomy. The Vietnam Sitreps of 3 March 1965 
reported the nationwide pacification effort remained stalled. The HOP TAC 
program "continues but personnel changes, past and future, may retard the 
future success of this effort." The 10 March Sitrep called the national pacifica- 
tion effort "stagnated" and objectives in some areas "regressing." In the I and 

11 Corps pacification has "all but ceased." Only a few widely scattered places 
in the rest of the country could report any achievement. In the HOP TAC area 
the anticipated slow-down in pacification had arrived — the result of shifting mili- 
tary commanders and province and district chiefs. On 17 March, pacification 
was virtually stalled, refugee problems were mounting in I and II Corps. Only in 
the HOP TAC area were there "modest gains ... in spite of increased VC area 
activity." By 24 March the word used for pacification efforts generally was 
"stalled," and the effort had now become increasingly devoted to refugee centers 
and relief. However, the Sitrep said 356 hamlets in the HOP TAC area had been 
reported — by Vietnamese authorities — as meeting agreed criteria and 927,000 
persons were living in zones that had been declared clear. 

At the time of the Johnson Mission, concern over the evident failures of the 
pacification program was such that proposals to change the framework within 
which it was conducted — proposals to put the USOM, USIS and CIA pacifica- 
tion operations all under MACV — were examined at length. Ambassadors Tay- 
lor and Alexis Johnson as well as General Westmoreland were advocating sweep- 
ing changes of this sort. All apparently conceded the need for greater coordina- 
tion of the different kinds of programs, military and aid, [words illegible] into 
pacification but senior mission ofl[icials strongly opposed any major revision of 
the non-military effort. 

IV. NSAM-328 

Near the end of March Ambassador Taylor returned to Washington for 
policy conferences. Four sets of proposals had been specifically developed for 
consideration at the 1 April meeting. One of these was General Johnson's report 
which has already been described in detail. Another was a suggested program of 

12 covert actions submitted by the Director of Central Intelligence. A third was 
an information program developed by USIS. The fourth was a proposed program 

98 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol 111 

of 41 non-military measures initially suggested, by Ambassador Taylor, then 
worked on by State during the third week of March, and finally incorporated in a 
memorandum to the President dated 31 March. 

The 41 possible non-military actions proposed for consideration by Ambassador 
Taylor were arranged in 9 groups. The first group was entitled "Decentraliza- 
tion In The GVN and The Rural Program." This group included measures to 
urge the GVN to increase the power and responsibility of individual province 
chiefs, and to persuade the peasants they had a stake in the GVN by giving 
rural pacification a positive label, "new rural life hamlet program," and com- 

The second group of non-military actions concerned "Youth, Religion, and 
Other Special Groups." Within this group were a series of actions to expand the 
support of the GVN Ministry of Youth and Sports, to reduce the draft age from 
20 to 18 or 17, to persuade the GVN to meet Montagnard grievances, and to 
increase aid to the Vietnamese labor movement. 

Under the heading "Economic and Social Measures," there were specific pro- 
posals to support a better coastal water transportation system and to urge the 
GVN to promulgate and put into effect an equitable land reform program. By 
sending U.S. and possibly nationalist Chinese experts it was hoped the GVN 
could be assisted in combating the growing VC capability to extract financial 
and material support from GVN resources. Measures were also urged to expand 
and accelerate slum clearance and low cost housing in troublesome urban areas 
and to improve the water supply. 

Specific measures advocated under the heading "Education" included a general 
increase in U.S. assistance, expansion of the program to translate American 
textbooks into Vietnamese and to establish secondary schools on American prin- 
ciples for Vietnamese students. 

Among the five specific measures under the rubric "Security and Intelligence," 
one urged promulgation of an effective arrest and detention law, another asked 
for a great increase in intelligence funds, a third called for a system of rewards 
for information leading to the capture or death of VC leaders, and the last was 
a suggestion for a national counterespionage organization. 

The "Psychological Operations" proposed were mainly additions to proposals 
already made in the USIS report of Mr. Rowan. 

The specific measures under "GVN Personnel" (and its systems of recruiting 
and training officials for the rural program) were to urge the GVN to establish 
rewards for outstanding performance, and give double or triple pay to rural school 
teachers and officials. 

There were two measures to aid "Refugees in Emergency Situations": one to 
provide additional U.S. support for the refugee program, and the other to estab- 
lish a joint U.S./GVN reaction team for quick survey and immediate action in 
war disaster situations. 

The last group of proposals was a revision of the old idea of encadrement of 
U.S. officers at key spots within the GVN. The administrative measures to in- 
crease U.S. effectiveness included such suggestions as allowing U.S. officers to 
work directly with special interest groups including Buddhists, Catholics, the sects, 
Montagnards, students, labor, etc.; and assigning other U.S. officers to work 
directly within the GVN, including the Prime Minister's office and key ministries. 
Another suggestion was for the establishment of a U.S. inter-agency group on 
pacification to be directed by a senior Mission officer reporting directly to the 
Ambassador. (This suggestion was evidently directed at the same problem as the 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 99 

suggestion for establishing all U.S. pacification effort under MACV that had 
arisen during the visit of General Johnson.) 

A feature of this proposed program that should be noted is that many if not 
most of the suggestions began with such phrases as "urge the GVN" or "persuade 
the GVN." This was of course not the first time that our assistance took this 
form. This had been going on for a long time. But the difference between merely 
supplying aid and also trying to supply initiative is significant. 

In preparation for the important 1 April meeting a White House paper en- 
titled "Key Elements For Discussion, Thursday, April 1, at 5:30 P.M." was 
circulated to participants. In summarizing the situation the paper said that morale 
had improved in South Vietnam and that, although the government had not 
really settled down, it seemed "hopeful both in its capacity and its sense of politi- 
cal forces." The South Vietnamese armed forces were in reasonably good shape 
although its top leadership was not really effective and the ratio of ARVN to VC 
(whose members were increasing) was not good enough. The situation in many 
parts of the countryside continued to go in favor of the VC although there was, 
at that writing, what was believed to be a temporary lull. Turning to the matter 
of the bombing this statement said that: 

Hanoi has shown no signs of give, and Peiping has stiffened its position 
within the last week. We still believe that attacks near Hanoi might sub- 
stantially raise the odds of Peiping coming in with air. 

Hanoi was expected to continue stepping up its infiltration both by land through 
Laos and by sea. There were clear indications of different viewpoints in Hanoi, 
Peiping, and Moscow with respect to "so-called wars of liberation," as well as 
continued friction between Moscow and Peiping. 

However, neither such frictions nor the pressure of our present slowly 
ascending pace of air attacks on North Vietnam can be expected to produce 
a real change in Hanoi's position for some time, probably two to three 
months at best. 

The argument then proceeded to the key question of whether or not Hanoi 
would continue to make real headway in the South. If it continued to make such 
headway, even a major step-up in our air attacks would probably not make them 
much more reasonable. On the other hand if the situation in South Vietnam 
began to move against the VC and the going became increasingly tough, then 
the "situation might begin to move on a political track — but again not in less 
than two to three months, in our present judgment." This was a significant depar- 
ture from the theory for ROLLING THUNDER propounded when that bomb- 
ing pressure was inaugurated. 

Following some considerations on immediate international moves and more gen- 
eral political posture, the memo turned to "actions within South Vietnam." 
Employing every useful resource to improve the efforts in the South was de- 
fined as crucial. The paper indicated that the 41 -point program of non-military 
measures developed mainly by Ambassador Taylor included promising elements 
and that the mission as well as agencies in Washington should develop additional 
points. McCone's suggestions for largely covert actions were recommended for 
further study. Both the Rowan (USIS) and the 21 -point program of General 
Johnson were viewed favorably, as well as an increase in U.S. military support 
forces in Vietnam from 18,000 to 20,000 men. An increase in GVN manpower 

100 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

was also approved with increased pay scales to be used as an inducement regard- 
less of the monetary costs. On one copy of this document that went to OSD, 
there was a handwritten additional point that was, "change mission of Marine 
force." This significant addition was later adopted in NSAM-328. 

The remainder of the paper was devoted, first, to U.S. and third country 
combat forces in South Vietnam, and second, to actions against North Vietnam 
and in Laos. These are of interest here only in the extent to which they distracted 
from or supplanted counterinsurgency actions within South Vietnam. So far as 
U.S. combat forces within South Vietnam were concerned, there was cautious 
consideration of a small and gradual buildup. But it was emphasized that because 
the reaction of the GVN and of the South Vietnamese people to any major U.S. 
combat deployment was uncertain, and because the net effectiveness of U.S. com- 
bat forces in the Vietnamese environment was also uncertain, the Secretary of 
State and the Secretary of Defense had recommended that action of this sort be 
limited. Only the deployment of two additional Marine battalions, one Marine 
air squadron and certain logistical forces over the ensuing sixty-day period was 
approved. Continuation of ROLLING THUNDER operations on a slowly 
ascending scale was assumed. It was also assumed that preparations would be 
made for additional strikes and for a response to any higher level of VC opera- 
tions, as well as, correspondingly, to slow the pace in the unlikely event that VC 
actions slacked off sharply. 

In the NSC meeting of 1 April 1965, the President gave his formal approval, 
"subject to modifications in the light of experience," to the 41 -point program of 
non-military actions submitted by Ambassador Taylor and described above. He 
gave general approval to the USIS recommendations, except that no additional 
funds were to be supplied for this work — the program was to be funded and 
supported by other agencies. The President further approved the urgent explora- 
tion of the covert actions proposed by the Director of Central Intelligence. 
Finally, he repeated his previous approval of the 21 -point program of military 
actions recommended by General Johnson. On the exclusively military side the 
President authorized the 18,000 to 20,000-man increase in U.S. military support 
forces, the deployment of two additional Marine battalions, and the change of 
mission for all Marine battalions to permit their use in active combat under con- 
ditions to be established and approved by the Secretary of Defense in consulta- 
tion with the Secretary of State. However, because this last decision was con- 
tingent upon future agreements between the Secretary of State and the Secretary 
of Defense its full significance was not immediately apparent. It was left to the 
Ambassador to seek South Vietnamese government approval and coordination 
for all of these measures. 

NSAM-328 did not last long as a full and current statement of U.S. policy. 
There were some responsible officials who had misgivings about increasing our 
involvement in South Vietnam or about increasing it more rapidly than might be 
necessary. There were others who apparently felt that NSAM-328 risked falling 
between two stools. One such was John A. McCone, Director of CIA (who was 
perhaps also unhappy about the increasing involvement per se) . The day after 
the 1 April meeting he addressed a memorandum expressing second thoughts to 
the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Special Assistant to the 
President for National Security Affairs and Ambassador Taylor. The change in 
the U.S. role from merely giving advice and static defense, to active combat 
operations against Viet Cong guerrillas, appeared to bother him. He felt our 
ground force operations would very possibly have only limited effectiveness 
against guerrillas, and above all, he felt the conduct of active combat operations 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 101 

in South Vietnam should be accompanied by air strikes against the North suf- 
ficiently heavy and damaging to really hurt the North. If the U.S. were to com- 
bine combat operations in the South with air strikes of any kind in the North, the 
attacks on the North should be heavy and do great damage. Without expressly 
saying so, his point seems to have been that the air war against the North should 
not be an attempt to persuade, but an effort to compel. He said that he had 
already reported that : 

The strikes to date have not caused a change in the North Vietnamese 
policy of directing Viet Cong insurgency, infiltrating cadres and supplying 
materials. If anything, the strikes to date have hardened their attitude. 

Although the memo as a whole conveys Mr. McCone's serious doubt that the 
ground operations in the South would in any event serve their purpose, he clearly 
advocated bombing more heavily if we decided to engage in ground operations. 
Unless they were supported by really strong actions against North Vietnam, he 
felt such ground operations would be doomed to failure: 

I believe our proposed track offers great danger of simply encouraging 
Chinese Communists and Soviet support of the DRV and VC cause if for 
no other reason than the risk for both will be minimum. I envision that the 
reaction of the NVN and the Chinese Communists will be to deliberately, 
carefully, and probably gradually, build up the Viet Cong capabilities by 
covert infiltration of North Vietnamese and, possibly, Chinese cadres and 
thus bring an ever increasing pressure on our forces. In effect, we will find 
ourselves mired down in combat in the jungle in a military effort we cannot 
win, and from which we will have extreme difficulty in extracting ourselves. 

McCone argued that if we were going to change the mission of the U.S. ground 
forces we also needed to change the ground rules of the strikes against North 
Vietnam, and he concluded: 

If we are unwilling to take this kind of a decision now, we must not take 
the actions concerning the mission of our ground forces for the reasons 
I have mentioned above. 

McCone's views notwithstanding, U.S. policy was promptly and sharply re- 
oriented in the direction of greater military involvement with a proportionate 
de-emphasis of the direct counterinsurgency efforts. It is not fully clear to this 
writer exactly how and why this rapid re-orientation occurred. On 7 April the 
President made his famous Johns Hopkins speech in which he publicly committed 
the United States more than ever before to the defense of South Vietnam, but 
also committed himself to engage in unconditional discussions. The following day, 
Pham Van Dong published his Four Points in what seemed a defiant, and un- 
yielding response. This sharp DRV rebuff of the President's initiative may well 
have accelerated the re-orientation. The re-orientation of policy itself, however, 
was expressed not in an explicit restatement of formal policy, but in a series of 
action decisions over the following fortnight that caught the Saigon Mission 
very much by surprise. 

The Ambassador's NODIS to the President on 13 April had a comparatively 
optimistic tone. It began, "We have just completed another quite favorable week 
in terms of losses inflicted upon the Viet Cong. . . ." The critical conditions in 
Bien Dinh Province had been considerably relieved and the province, it was 
believed, was about back to normal. Although a large part of the province re- 
mained under Viet Cong control, many areas had been restored to government 

102 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol 111 

control and the fear of the loss of major towns seemed past. There had been 
aggressive action by a new division commander, and there seemed to be improved 
morale attributable to the air actions against North Vietnam. There was a pos- 
sibility that the Viet Cong were regrouping and they would probably soon en- 
gage in some new kind or phase of offensive action. But, then as now, there were 
what some interpreted as indications that the Viet Cong morale might be drop- 
ping. Furthermore, estimates — not audited figures — indicated that the govern- 
ment military and paramilitary forces had been increased by some 10,000 dur- 
ing the month of March as against the target of 8,000 per month. Prime Minister 
Quat was continuing his program of visiting the provinces, and in addition to 
making himself and the Saigon government known to the hinterlands, he had 
expressed particular interest in such projects as rural electrification, agricultural 
development, water supply and school construction. Quat's principal worry con- 
tinued to be the unruly generals and there was continued evidence of disunity 
within the senior officers corps. 

Within two days, however, messages went out from Washington indicating 
that decisions had been made at the highest level to go beyond the measures 
specified in NSAM-328. On 15 April, McGeorge Bundy sent a personal nodis 
to Ambassador Taylor saying that the President had just approved important 
future military deployments and that some personal explanation might be 

The President has repeatedly emphasized his personal desire for a strong 
experiment in the encadrement of U.S. troops with the Vietnamese. He 
is also very eager to see prompt experiments in use of energetic teams of 
U.S. officials in support of provisional governments under unified U.S. 
leadership. These desires are the source of corresponding paragraphs in our 

On further troop deployments, the President's belief is that current situa- 
tion requires use of all practical means of strengthening position in South 
Vietnam and that additional U.S. troops are important if not decisive rein- 
forcements. He has not seen evidence of negative result of deployments to 
date, and does not wish to wait any longer than is essential for genuine GVN 

President always intended these plans be reviewed with you and approved 
by Quat before final execution, and we regret any contrary impression given 
by our messages in recent days. 

The message stated that "highest authority" believed that, in addition to the 
actions against the North, something new had to be added in the South, to achieve 

1. Experimental encadrement by U.S. forces of South Vietnamese ground 
troops both to stiffen and increase their effectiveness and also to add to their 
fire power. Two approaches were to be carried out concurrently, one involv- 
ing integration of a substantial number of U.S. combat personnel in each 
of several ARVN battalions, the other involving the combined operation of 
approximately three additional Army/Marine battalions with three or more 
South Vietnamese battalions for use in combat operations. 

2. Introduction of a brigade force into the Bien Hoa-Vung Tau area to 
act both as a security force for installations and to participate in counterin- 
surgency combat operations. 

3. Introduction of a battalion or multi-battalion forces into three addi- 
tional locations along the coast, such as Qui Nhon. The purpose here would 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965 103 

be to experiment further with using U.S. forces in counterinsurgency role in 
addition to providing security for the base. 

In addition to these three steps, which were intended basically to increase the 
military effectiveness of the counterguerrilla campaign, a series of other steps 
was proposed. One was a substantial expansion of the Vietnamese recruiting 
campaign using U.S. recruiting experts, techniques and procedures. A second 
was an experimental program to provide expanded medical services to the coun- 
tryside utihzing mobile dispensaries. 

The next one — and the one that caused considerable subsequent discussion — 
was the experimental introduction into the provincial government structure of 
a team of U.S. Army civil affairs personnel to assist in the establishment of 
stable provincial administration and to initiate and direct the necessary political, 
economic and security programs. It was proposed that teams be introduced first 
into only one or two provinces. General Peers was being sent to work with 
COMUSMACV in developing detailed plans. 

The last non-military measure was an experimental plan for distributing food 
directly to regular and paramilitary personnel and their families. 

Hot on the heels of this message came another on 16 April explaining in some 
further detail the proposition to experiment with U.S. civil affairs officers in 
the pacification program. Major General W. R. Peers' party was scheduled to 
arrive in Saigon on 19 April. According to the proposal COMUSMACV was 
to designate a senior of!icer to direct the overall U.S. Army Civil Affairs effort 
in the one or two test provinces. Within these, the responsibility for all U.S. 
activities would be vested in the senior U.S. Army sector advisor. 

This last message was, for Taylor, the straw that broke the camel's back. 
Immediately upon receiving it the Ambassador dispatched a NODIS to McGeorge 

.... Contrary to the firm understanding which I received in Washington, 
I was not asked to concur in this massive visitation. For your information, 
I do not concur. 

Based on the Httle I know of the proposed civil affairs experiment, I am 
opposed to beginning any extensive planning exercise which, because of 
its controversial and divisive concept, is going to shake this mission and 
divert senior members from their important daily tasks. If GVN gets word 
of these plans to impose U.S. military government framework on their 
country (as this new concept seems to imply), it will have a very serious 
impact on our relations here. 

We are rocking the boat at a time when we have it almost on an even keel. 
I recommend that we suspend action on this project until we have time to 
talk over its merits and decide how to proceed with order. 

Shortly after dispatching this telegram, the Ambassador sent another to 
McGeorge Bundy, this one dealing more generally with the defense message of 
15 April which had laid out the new program of added measures decided upon 
by the President. 

I am greatly troubled by DoD 15 April 15. First, it shows no considera- 
tion for the fact that, as a result of decisions taken in Washington during 
my visit, this mission is charged with securing implementation by the two- 
month old Quat government of a 21 -point military program, a 41 -point non- 
military program, a 16-point Rowan USIS program and a 12-point CIA 
program. Now this new cable opens up new vistas of further points as if 

104 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

we can win here somehow on a point score. We are going to stall the machine 
of government if we do not declare a moratorium on new programs for at 
least six months. Next, it shows a far greater wiHingness to get into the 
ground war than I had discerned in Washington during my recent trip . . . 

My greatest concern arises over para 6 reftel [the civil affairs experiment 
proposal] which frankly bewilders me. What do the authors of this cable 
think the mission has been doing over the months and years? We have pre- 
sumably the best qualified people the Washington agencies (State, AID, 
DoD, USIA and CIA) can find working in the provinces seven days a week 
at precisely the task described in paragraph 6. Is it proposed to withdraw 
these people and replace them by Army civil affairs types operating on the 
pattern of military occupation? If this is the thought, I would regard such 
a change in policy which would gain wide publicity, as disastrous in its likely 
efforts upon pacification in general and on US/GVN relations in particular. 

Mac, can't we be better protected from our friends? I know that every- 
one wants to help, but there is such a thing as killing with kindness. In par- 
ticular, we want to stay alive here because we think we're winning — and will 
continue to win unless helped to death. 

Shortly after sending this cable, the Ambassador sent still a third message, 
this one suggesting certain steps that might be taken in Washington to facilitate 
his implementation of the many and rapidly changing policies and programs that 
had been decided upon in Washington since his visit. The problem was winning 
not only the acquiescence, but the support and active cooperation of the South 
Vietnamese government. He suggested the kind of instruction that Washington 
should provide him to present to the GVN — the new policy of third country par- 
ticipation in ground combat. Taylor's proposed instructions are quoted in full 
here because they provide, for better or worse, an internally consistent rationale 
for the shifting policies of that month: 

The USG has completed a thorough review of the situation in South 
Vietnam both in its national and international aspects and has reached cer- 
tain important conclusions. It feels that in recent weeks there has been a 
somewhat favorable change in the overall situation as the result of the air 
attacks on the DRV, the relatively small but numerous successes in the field 
against the VC and the encouraging progress of the Quat government. How- 
ever, it is becoming increasingly clear that, in all probability, the primary 
objective of the GVN and the USG of changing the will of the DRV to 
support the VC insurgency cannot be attained in an accpetable time frame 
by the methods presently employed. The air campaign in the North must 
be supplemented by signal successes against the VC in the South before 
we can hope to create that frame of mind in Hanoi which will lead to the 
decisions we seek. 

The JCS have reviewed the military resources which will be available in 
SVN by the end of 1965 and have concluded that even with an attainment 
of the highest feasible mobilization goals, ARVN will have insufficient forces 
to carry out the kind of successful campaign against the VC which is con- 
sidered essential for the purposes discussed above. If the ground war is not 
to drag into 1966 and even beyond, they consider it necessary to reinforce 
GVN ground forces with about twenty battalion equivalents in addition to 
the forces now being recruited in SVN. Since these reinforcements cannot 
be raised by the GVN they must inevitably come from third country sources. 

The USG accepts the validity of this reasoning of the JCS and offers its 

U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963- Apr. 1965 105 

assistance to the GVN to raise these additional forces for the purpose of 
bringing the VC insurgency to an end in the shortest possible time. We are 
prepared to bring in additional U.S. ground forces provided we can get a 
reasonable degree of participation from other third countries. If the GVN 
will make urgent representations to them, we believe it will be entirely 
possible to obtain the following contributions: Korea, one regimental com- 
bat team; Australia, one Infantry battalion; New Zealand, one battery and 
one company of tanks; Philippine Islands, one battalion. If the forces of 
the foregoing magnitude are forthcoming, the USG is prepared to provide 
the remainder of the combat reinforcements as well as the necessary logistic 
personnel to support the third country contingents. Also, it will use its good 
offices as desired in assisting the GVN approach to these governments. 

You (the Ambassador), will seek the concurrence of the GVN to the 
foregoing program, recognizing that a large number of questions such as 
command relationships, concepts of employment and disposition of forces 
must be worked out subsequently. 

The message concluded that, armed with an instruction of this kind, he, 
Taylor, would be adequately equipped to initiate what might be a sharp debate 
within the GVN. Something of this sort was needed before taking up the matter 
of troop arrangements with Quat. 

Later the same day, Deputy Ambassador U. Alexis Johnson sent Washington 
his personal observations on the recent decision to introduce third country troops. 
He had just returned from one day at Pleiku with Premier Quat, and two days 
in the Danang-Hue area, where he had had "extended visits and informal con- 
versations with all of the senior Marine officers ashore." 

I fully appreciate considerations both internal and external to SVN which 
impel move on our part to bring this war to successful conclusion as quickly 
as possible . . . However, I gravely question whether this result can be 
achieved at this time by massive input of non-Vietnamese military forces. 
As we have learned, we are dealing with volatile and hyper-sensitive people 
with strong xenophobic characteristics never far below the surface. We have 
thus far deployed our Marine battalions to minimize direct contact with 
local population. This not only from our choice but that of GVN, especially 
General Thi. On this I think Thi is right. Hasty and ill conceived deployment 
of non-Vietnamese in combat roles where they are substantially involved with 
local population could badly backfire on U.S. and give rise to cries by 
Buddhists . . . and others to "throw out foreigners" and "return Vietnam 
to the Vietnamese ..." 

The message went on to say that in the next few weeks the Marines at Danang 
would have a chance to test their success as a reaction force in support of ARVN 
initiated contact with the enemy, and in patrolling thinly populated areas. The 
Deputy Ambassador recommended that we await the outcome of this testing 
before engaging any more forces. 

A hastily arranged meeting in Honolulu on 20 April was evidently called to 
soothe Taylor's temper over the hasty decisions to deploy third country troops, 
and to get agreement to them by the senior U.S. policy officials concerned — not 
to reverse or alter those policies or to shift the direction of our commitments. By 
that point we were inexorably committed to a military resolution of the in- 
surgency. The problem seemed no longer soluble by any other means. 


2. Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, 
February 1964-January 1965 


February-June, 1964 

The first half of 1964 saw the unfolding of an intensive debate and planning 
effort within the Johnson Administration concerning the desirability, limitations, 
and risks of mounting major military pressures against North Vietnam. Actual 
U.S. involvement in SEA increased only slightly during this period. 

The single notable element of actual increased U.S. involvement during this 
period was a program of covert GVN operations, designed to impose "progres- 
sively escalating pressure" upon the North, and initiated on a small and essen- 
tially ineffective scale in February. The active U.S. role in the few covert opera- 
tions that were carried out was limited essentially to planning, equipping, and 
training of the GVN forces involved, but U.S. responsibility for the launching 
and conduct of these activities was unequivocal and carried with it an implicit 
symbolic and psychological intensification of the U.S. commitment. A firebreak 
had been crossed, and the U.S. had embarked on a program that was recognized 
as holding little promise of achieving its stated objectives, at least in its early 
stages. Thus, a demand for more was stimulated and an expectation of more was 

The demands came — mostly from U.S. officials in Saigon and Washington 
and mostly because of the felt need to do something about a deteriorating situa- 
tion in SVN — to increase the intensity of the covert operations and to change 
from covert to overt action. The Khanh government, it should be noted, opposed 
these demands on the grounds that it would expose the vulnerable GVN to 
greater pressures from the enemy. With each successive "crisis" — recognition of 
insufficient intelligence on the nature and scope of the infiltration (December 
through May), realization of dramatic communist gains in SVN (February), 
threats of major communist advances in Laos (late May) — the demands were 
redoubled and intensified. The basic assumption underlying these demands was 
that the DRV, faced with the credible prospect of losing its industrial and eco- 
nomic base through direct attack, would halt its support of the insurgencies in 
Laos and South Vietnam. 

Beginning in early February, a series of valuable studies and planning exer- 
cises were undertaken, with participation of all national security agencies, to 
examine the whole panoply of problems — objectives, options, effects, costs, and 
risks — of mounting overt coercive pressures against the North. The planning 
effort served to develop consensus on some issues, including the recognition 
that punitive action in the North would be, at best, complementary to successful 
counterinsurgency in the South. It also surfaced significant differences among 
the participants in the planning effort and in the broader debate that ensued, in 
their respective approaches to "pressure planning" as well as in the substantive 
content of their recommendations. Thus, the JCS viewed the planning task as 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 107 

preparation of an action program for near-term implementation, and their recom- 
mendations tended toward immediate and forceful military measures. The State- 
ISA planning group, on the other hand, viewed it as a contingency planning ex- 
ercise and its scenarios and recommendations stressed a more deliberate, cautious 
approach, carefully tailoring proposed U.S. actions in SEA to the unique political 
context of each country. Ambassador Lodge, in turn, developed yet a third "car- 
rot and stick" approach, stressing a diplomatic effort at persuasion, i.e., combin- 
ing a threat of punitive strikes with an offer of some economic assistance to the 
DRV. These divergences in approach and concept persisted, though varying in 
degree and emphasis, throughout the planning period. 

By June, with increasing recognition that only relatively heavy levels of at- 
tack on the DRV would be likely to have any signoficant compelling effect, with 
a greater awareness of the many imponderables raised by the planning effort, and 
with the emergence of a somewhat more hopeful situation in SVN and Laos, 
most of the President's advisers favored holding off on any attempts to pressure 
North Vietnam through overt military operations. Only the JCS, Ambassador 
Lodge, and Walt Rostow continued to advocate increased military measures, 
and even Rostow qualified his recommendations with the claim that a firm public 
stance, and supporting actions giving the impression of increased military opera- 
tions, would be the best assurance of avoiding having to employ them. More- 
over, most of the advisers recognized the necessity of building firmer public 
and congressional support for greater U.S. involvement in SEA before any wider 
military actions should be undertaken. 

Accordingly, with the political conventions just around the corner and the 
election issues regarding Vietnam clearly drawn, the President decided against 
actions that would deepen the U.S. involvement by broadening the conflict in 
Laos, Cambodia or North Vietnam. In his view, there were still a number of 
relatively mild military and intensified political actions in the South open to him 
that would serve the national interest better than escalation of the conflict. 

July-October, 1964 

During the spring and summer of 1964, there was disquiet about the situation 
in South Vietnam and disillusion with on-going U.S. actions to right that situa- 
tion. During the third quarter of 1964, a consensus developed within the Johnson 
Administration that some form of continual overt pressures mounting in severity 
against North Vietnam soon would be required. The purpose of these pressures 
was twofold: (1) to effect DRV will and capabilities in order to persuade and 
force the leadership in Hanoi to halt their support and direction of the war in 
the South; and (2) to induce negotiations at some future point in time on our 
terms after North Vietnam had been hurt and convinced of our resolve. This 
consensus was in an early formative stage — it had become an idea, not a pro- 
gram for action; it was a belief, not as yet fully staffed and considered. Be- 
cause of this and because of important tactical considerations (the impending 
U.S. elections, the instability of the GVN, and the need to produce further evi- 
dence of VC infiltration into the South) implementation of such a policy was 
deferred. Nevertheless, the groundwork was being laid. The Tonkin Gulf reprisal 
constituted an important firebreak, and the Tonkin Gulf Resolution set U.S. 
public suport for virtually any action. 

Since the fall of Diem in November 1963, the political situation in South Viet- 
nam had been deteriorating. The Khanh Government had succeeded Minh in 
January 1964, but had demonstrated only greater capacity for survivability, not 

108 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

more capacity for reversing the trend toward collapse. In the wake of the Tonkin 
Gulf reprisals, when South Vietnamese morale was still temporarily inflated, 
Khanh made a bold bid to consolidate his personal power and impose semi-dic- 
tatorial rule. He was brought to heel, however, in less than a month by the mili- 
tary junta which continued to operate behind the scenes. By September, the most 
salient aspect of the confused political situation in South Vietnam was the like- 
lihood that it would continue its downward slide into the foreseeable future. 

In this setting, a program of covert military pressures against North Vietnam 
already had been set in process. These were basically of three kinds: (1) low 
level recce with armed escort over Laos; (2) De Soto patrols within 4 n.m. of 
the NVN coast to acquire visual, electronic, and photographic intelligence; and 
(3) Oplan 34-A which included a variety of anti-infiltration, sabotage, and psy- 
war measures. The portent of these actions was being conveyed to the North 
Vietnamese through private and public channels. A Canadian, Blair Seaborn, was 
sent to Hanoi to state that U.S. objectives were limited but that our commitment 
was deep, and that "in the event of escalation the greatest devastation would of 
course result for the DRVN itself." 

Neither the situation in SVN nor the failure of Hanoi to acquiesce to our 
threats diminished the basic U.S. commitment. NSAM 288 expounding the need 
to do what was necessary to preserve an "independent non-communist South 
Vietnam" was the guiding policy document. At no time in this period was the 
NSAM 288 commitment brought into question. Rather, American concern was 
focused on how the U.S. could retrieve the situation. The usual palliatives — 
more aid, more advice, more pressure on the GVN to reform, and more verbal 
threats to Hanoi — were no longer seen as satisfactory. Nor did it appear to U.S. 
decision-makers that we faced a stark choice between complete U.S. withdrawal 
from the struggle or a large scale introduction of U.S. ground forces. Nor did 
the leadership in Washington believe that a massive bombing campaign against 
the North need be seriously considered — although such a program was proposed 
by the JCS. With all these alternatives implicitly ruled out at this time, the choice 
was both obvious and inevitable. Although it did not take the form of decision, 
it was agreed that the U.S. should at an unspecified date in the future begin an 
incremental series of gradually mounting strikes against North Vietnam. The 
only real questions were precisely what actions should be taken and when? None 
of these early fall discussions in Washington really confronted the hard issues 
of what a bombing campaign would buy and what it would cost. These hard- 
headed discussions, to some extent, took place in the last few months of 1964. 

The key events in this period were the Tonkin Gulf incidents of August 2nd 
and 4th and the U.S. reprisal on North Vietnam PT boats and bases on August 
5th. The explanation for the DRV attack on U.S. ships remains puzzling (per- 
haps it was simply a way of warning and warding off U.S. patrols close to North 
Vietnam borders). The swift U.S. reaction was to be expected. While there was 
some momentary uncertainty about the actuality of the second attack on August 
4th, confirming evidence of the attack was received before the U.S. reprisal was 
launched. The U.S. reprisal represented the carrying out of recommendations 
made to the President by his principal advisers earlier that summer and subse- 
quently placed on the shelf. The existence of these previous recommendations 
with planning down to detailed targeting made possible the immediate U.S. re- 
action when the crisis came. 

At the same time as U.S. reprisals were taken, President Johnson decided to 
act on another recommendation that had been under consideration since at least 
May — a Congressional resolution of support for U.S. policy. Whereas in the 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 109 

earlier discussions, such a resolution had been proposed as a vehicle for mobi- 
lizing Congressional and public support behind an escalating campaign of pres- 
sures against the North, the President, in the midst of an election campaign, now 
felt impelled to use it to solidify support for his overall Vietnam policy. On Au- 
gust 5th he sent a message to Congress on the Tonkin incidents and asked for 
passage of a joint resolution endorsing his policy. The resolution itself was one 
prepared by the Administration and introduced on its behalf by the Chairmen 
of the Foreign Affairs Committees in the two Houses. It was passed with near 
unanimous support on August 7th. 

The net effect of the swift U.S. reprisals and the Congressional Resolution was 
to dramatically demonstrate, publicly state and formally record the commitments 
to South Vietnam and within Southeast Asia that had been made internal U.S. 
policy by NSAM 288 in March 1964. They were also conceived and intended 
as a clear communication to Hanoi of what it could expect if it continued to 
pursue its current course of action. They were portents of the future designed 
to demonstrate the firmness of U.S. resolve and the direction its policy was tend- 
ing. The psychological impact of the raids on the Administration and the Ameri- 
can public is also significant. They marked the crossing of an important thresh- 
hold in the war, and it was accomplished with virtually no domestic criticism, 
indeed, with an evident increase in public support for the Administration. The 
precedent for strikes against the North was thus established and at very little 
apparent cost. There was a real cost, however. The number of unused measures 
short of direct military action against the North had been depleted. Greater 
visible commitment was purchased at the price of reduced flexibility. 

But, a worried Administration went to some lengths to insure that the strikes 
did not bind or commit it to any future policies or actions and to have it under- 
stood that the strikes had been pure and simple reprisals of the one of a kind 
variety. Yet, for all these reasons, when a decision to strike the North was faced 
again, it was much easier to take. 

The Tonkin reprisals were widely regarded within the Administration as an 
effective, although limited demonstration of the firmness of American resolve. 
However, they also served to stiffen that resolve and to deepen the commitment. 
Several officials within the Administration, including Ambassador Taylor, felt 
that to have any lasting impact this demonstration of resolve would have to be 
followed up by other continuing actions, in an increasing tempo. The positive 
short-term effect of the reprisals in raising South Vietnamese morale was noted 
as an important by-product of the strikes and offered as one justification for con- 
tinuing pressures against the North. Also figuring importantly in calculation of 
resolve and intent was the appreciable improvement in our position in Laos as 
a result of the vigorous spring offensive by Laotian Government forces. This 
improvement had led us to oppose a 14-nation conference on Laos for fear of 
placing the new gains in jeopardy, and convinced many that only military meas- 
ures were unambiguously understood by Hanoi's communist rulers. This, how- 
ever, was tempered by a countervailing concern not to provoke by U.S. action 
any communist military escalation in Laos. 

Quite another set of arguments for strikes against the North were advanced 
by Walt Rostow, then Counselor of the State Department, in a paper that cir- 
culated widely through the Administration in August 1964. The "Rostow Thesis" 
argued that externally supported insurgencies could only be successfully dealt with 
by striking at their sources of support and neutralizing them. The objective of 
such attacks would be psychological rather than purely military. They would be 
designed to alter the aggressor's calculation of interests in supporting the insur- 

110 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol III 

gency through the fear of further miHtary and economic damage, the fear of 
involvement in a wider conflict, the fear of internal political upheaval and the fear 
of greater dependence on a major communist power. Any incidental improvement 
in morale in the country troubled by insurgency or improvement in bargaining 
leverage were to be regarded as bonuses. To achieve the desired effect, a care- 
fully orchestrated series of escalating military measures, coupled with simultane- 
ous political, economic and psychological pressures was called for. The "thesis" 
was articulated in general terms, but the immediate case in everyone's mind was, 
of course. Southeast Asia. 

A thorough critique of Rostow's paper was prepared in OSD/ISA with in- 
puts from State's Policy Planning Council. This analysis argued that the validity 
of the "thesis" would depend on two variables: (1) the extent of the commit- 
ment of the nation supporting the insurgency; and (2) the degree to which 
vital U.S. interests were at stake in the conflict. The latter question having been 
settled with respect to South Vietnam by NSAM 288, the remaining problem was 
whether the kinds of actions Rostow recommended could succeed given the level 
of determined commitment of the North Vietnamese. For the Rostow approach 
to Succeed, the DRV would have to be persuaded that: (1) the U.S. was taking 
limited action to achieve limited goals; (2) the U.S. commitment was total; and 
(3) the U.S. had established a sufficient domestic consensus to see the policy 
through. If the DRV was not so convinced, the approach would fail unless there 
were a major U.S. military involvement in the war. The critique concluded that 
the public opinion problems of such an approach, both domestic and international, 
would be very great, and that in view of the inherent problems of implementing 
and managing such a discriminating policy, it had poor chances of success. These 
reservations notwithstanding, the outlook embodied in the "Rostow thesis" came 
to dominate a good deal of Administration thinking on the question of pressures 
against the North in the months ahead. 

All of the pressures-against-the-North thinking came to a head in the strategy 
meeting of the principals on September 7th. It appears that a rather narrow range 
of proposals was up for consideration. One program proposal came from the 
ICS. It was a repeat of the 94-target list program which the ICS had recom- 
mended on August 26th. The ICS called for deliberate attempts to provoke the 
DRV into taking acts which could then be answered by a systematic U.S. air 
campaign. The ICS argued that such actions were now "essential to preventing 
complete collapse of the U.S. position in the RVN and SEA," because "con- 
tinuation of present or foreseeable programs limited to the RVN will not produce 
the desired result." The Chiefs were supported by ISA in their provocation ap- 
proach. For ISA, ASD McNaughton argued that our acts and the DRV response 
"should be likely to provide good grounds for us to escalate if we wished." Mc- 
Naughton's approach was for a "gradual squeeze," not simply a tit-for-tat con- 
tingency and unlike the quick, all-out proposals of the JCS. 

The principal conferees at this September meeting did not believe that de- 
liberate acts of provocation should be undertaken "in the immediate future while 
the GVN is still struggling to its feet." However, they apparently reached a con- 
sensus that they might recommend such actions — "depending on GVN progress 
and communist reaction in the meantime" — by early October. This deferral de- 
cision was strongly supported by Mr. McCone of the CIA and Ambassador 
Taylor. Ambassador Taylor, revising his previous position, believed that the 
conflict should not be escalated to a level beyond South Vietnamese capacities 
to manage it. He opposed overt actions against North Vietnam as too risky and 
urged instead that further measures to strengthen the GVN be taken first. Sim- 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 111 

ilarly, Secretary McNamara affirmed his understanding that "we are not acting 
more strongly because there is a clear hope of strengthening the GVN." Mc- 
Namara went on to urge, however, that the way be kept open for stronger 
actions even if the GVN did not improve or in the event the war were widened 
by the communists. In notes taken at this meeting the President asked: "Can 
we really strengthen the GVN?" 

It is important to differentiate the consensus of the principals at this September 
meeting from the views which they had urged on the President in the preceding 
spring. In the spring the use of force had been clearly contingent upon a major 
reversal — principally in Laos — and had been advanced with the apparent as- 
sumption that military actions hopefully would not be required. Now, however, 
their views were advanced with a sense that such actions were inevitable. 

The results of the September meeting were recorded in NSAM 314. The ac- 
tions that were approved against the DRV for the next three month period were 
highly limited and marginal in character. They included resumption of the off- 
shore U.S. naval patrols, resumption of covert GVN coastal operations against 
the North, limited air and ground operations in the Laotian corridor, and a pre- 
paredness to respond to any further DRV attacks on a tit-for-tat basis. 

From the September meeting forward, there was little basic disagreement 
among the principals on the need for military actions against the North. What 
prevented action for the time being was a set of tactical considerations. The 
President was in the midst of an election campaign in which he was presenting 
himself as the candidate of reason and restraint as opposed to the quixotic Barry 
Goldwater. Other concerns were the aforementioned shakiness of the GVN, the 
uncertainty as to China's response to an escalation, the desire not to upset the 
delicate Laotian equation, the need to design whatever actions were taken so as 
to achieve the maximum public and Congressional support, and the implicit be- 
lief that overt actions at this time might bring pressure for premature negotiations 
— that is, negotiations before the DRV was hurting. In summary, the period saw 
the development of the consensus on military pressures against the North and the 
decision to defer them for temporary reasons of tactics. 

November 1964-January 1965 

In the late fall of 1964, President Johnson made a tentative decision in favor 
of limited military pressures against North Vietnam. He acted on the consensus 
recommendation of his principal advisors, a consensus achieved by a process of 
compromising alternatives into a lowest-common-denominator proposal at the 
sub-cabinet and cabinet level, thereby precluding any real Presidential choice 
among viable options. The choices he was given all included greater pressures 
against North Vietnam. The Presidential decision itself was for a limited and 
tightly controlled two-step build-up of pressures. The first phase involved an in- 
tensification of existing harassment activities with reprisals; the second, which 
was approved in principle only, was to be a sustained, slowly escalating air cam- 
paign against the North. The spectrum of choice could have run from (a) a judg- 
ment that the situation in the South was irretrievable and, hence, a decision to 
begin the withdrawal of U.S. forces; to (b) a judgment that the maintenance 
of a non-communist South Vietnam was indispensable to U.S. strategic interests 
and, therefore, required a massive U.S. intensification of the war both in the 
North and in the South. The extreme withdrawal option was rejected almost 
without surfacing for consideration since it was in direct conflict with the inde- 
pendent, noncommunist SVN commitments of NSAM 288. The opposite option 

112 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

of massive involvement, which was essentially the JCS recommendation at an 
early point in these deliberations, was shunted aside because both its risks and 
costs were too high. 

Short of those extremes, however, were two other alternatives that were briefly 
considered by the Working Group as fallback positions but rejected before they 
were fully explored. While both came into some conflict with the commitments 
to South Vietnam of NSAM 288, they could have been justified as flowing from 
another long-standing U.S. conviction, namely that ultimately the war would 
have to be won in the South by the South Vietnamese. These fallback positions 
were outlined in the following manner: 

1. To hold the situation together as long as possible so that we have time to 
strengthen other areas of Asia. 

2. To take forceful enough measures in the situation so that we emerge 
from it, even in the worst case, with our standing as the principal helper 
against Communist expansion as little impaired as possible. 

3. To make clear ... to nations, in Asia particularly, that failure in South 
Vietnam, if it comes, was due to special local factors that do not apply 
to other nations we are committed to defend. . . . 

In operational terms the first would have meant holding the line — placing an 
immediate, low ceiling on the number of U.S. personnel in SVN, and taking 
vigorous efforts to build on a stronger base elsewhere, possibly Thailand. The 
second alternative would have been to undertake some spectacular, highly visible 
supporting action like a limited-duration selective bombing campaign as a last 
effort to save the South; to have accompanied it with a propaganda campaign 
about the unwinnability of the war given the GVN's ineptness and; then, to 
have sought negotiations through compromise and neutralization when the 
bombing failed. Neither of these options was ever developed. 

The recommendation of the Principals to the President left a gap between the 
maximum objective of NSAM 288 and the marginal pressures against the North 
being proposed to achieve that objective. There are two by no means contra- 
dictory explanations of this gap. 

One explanation is the way in which pressures and the controlled use of force 
were viewed by the Principals. There is some reason to believe that the Principals 
thought that carefully calculated doses of force could bring about predictable and 
desirable responses from Hanoi. The threat implicit in minimum but increasing 
amounts of force ("slow squeeze") would, it was hoped by some, ultimately 
bring Hanoi to the table on terms favorable to the U.S. Underlying this opti- 
mistic view was a significant underestimate of the level of the DRV commitment 
to victory in the South, and an overestimate of the effectiveness of U.S. pressures 
in weakening that resolve. The assumption was that the threat value of limited 
pressures coupled with declarations of firm resolve on our part would be suffi- 
cient to force the DRV into major concessions. Therefore, the U.S. negotiating 
posture could be a tough one. Another factor which, no doubt, commended the 
proposal to the Administration was the relatively low-cost — in political terms — 
of such action. Furthermore, these limited measures would give the GVN a 
temporary breathing spell, it was thought, in which to regroup itself, both po- 
litically and militarily should stronger action involving a direct confrontation 
between the two Vietnams be required at some future date. And lastly, it was 
the widely shared belief that the recommendation was a moderate solution that did 
not foreclose future options for the President if the measures did not fully achieve 
their intended results. The JCS differed from this view on the grounds that if 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 113 

we were really interested in affecting Hanoi's will, we would have to hit hard at its 

A second explanation of the gap between ends and means is a more simple one. 
In a phrase, we had run out of alternatives other than pressures. The GVN was 
not reforming, ARVN was being hit hard, further U.S. aid and advice did not 
seem to do the trick, and something was needed to keep the GVN afloat until 
we were ready to decide on further actions at a later date. Bombing the North 
would fit that bill, and make it look like we tried. 

The President was cautious and equivocal in approaching the decision. Indica- 
tive of his reluctance to widen the U.S. commitment and of his desire to hedge 
his bets was the decision to make phase II of the new policy contingent on GVN 
reform and improvement. Ambassador Taylor was sent back to Saigon in De- 
cember after the White House meetings with the understanding that the U.S. 
Government did not believe: 

that we should incur the risks which are inherent in any expansion of 
hostilities without first assuring that there is a government in Saigon capable 
of handling the serious problems involved in such an expansion and of ex- 
ploiting the favorable effects which may be anticipated. . . . 

As with the discussions of the preceding six months, the decisions at the end 
of 1964 marked another step in the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The following 
is a summary of the November-December, 1964 and January, 1965 deliberations. 

On the eve of the November election, and after the decision not to retaliate 
against the North for the VC attack on the Bien Hoa airbase on November 1, 
the President appointed an inter-agency working group and asked it to conduct 
a thorough re-examination of our Vietnam policy and to present him with al- 
ternatives and recommendations as to our future course of action. That such a 
review should have been undertaken so soon after the policy deliberations and 
decisions of September is at first glance surprising. The President, however, was 
now being elected in his own right with an overwhelming mandate and all the 
sense of opportunity and freedom to reconsider past policy and current trends 
that such a victory invariably brings. In retrospect, there appears to have been, 
in fact, remarkably little latitude for reopening the basic questions about U.S. 
involvement in the Vietnam struggle. NSAM 288 did not seem open to question. 
In Vietnam, our now substantial efforts and our public affirmation of resolve to 
see the war through to success had failed to reverse either the adverse trend of 
the war or the continuing deterioration of South Vietnamese political life. The 
September deliberations had produced only a decision against precipitate action 
and had done nothing to redress the situation. Significantly, however, they had 
revealed the existence of an Administration consensus that military pressures 
against the North would be required at some proximate future date for a variety 
of reasons. Now, in November, with a new electoral mandate and the abundant 
evidence of the inadequacy of current measures, the President was once again 
looking for new ideas and proposals — a low-cost option with prospects for 
speedy, positive results. 

The Working Group's first job had been to examine U.S. interests and objec- 
tives in South Vietnam. This subject stirred some of the most heated debate of 
the entire Working Group Project. At the outset, the maximum statement of U.S. 
interests and objectives in South Vietnam was accompanied by two fallback posi- 
tions — the first a compromise, the second merely rationalizations for withdrawal. 
The ICS representative took testy exception to including the fallback positions 

114 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol III 

in the Group's paper and cited JCS Memoranda on the critical importance of 
South Vietnam to the U.S. position in Asia. His forceful objections were effec- 
tive and they were downgraded in the final paper which, while also pointedly re- 
jecting the "domino theory" as over-simplified, nevertheless, went on to describe 
the effect of the fall of South Vietnam in much the same terms. Specifically 
pointing up the danger to the other Southeast Asian countries and to Asia in 
general, the paper concluded: 

There is a great deal we could still do to reassure these countries, but 
the picture of a defense line clearly breached could have serious effects and 
could easily, over time, tend to unravel the whole Pacific and South Asian 
defense structures. 

In spite of these concessions, the JCS refused to associate itself with the final 
formulation of interests and objectives, holding that the domino theory was per- 
fectly appropriate to the South Vietnamese situation. 

One of the other important tasks assigned to the Working Group was the in- 
telligence assessment of the effectiveness of measures against the North in im- 
proving the situation in the South. The initial appraisal of the intelligence com- 
munity was that "the basic elements of Communist strength in South Vietnam 
remain indigenous," and that "even if severely damaged" the DRV could con- 
tinue to support a reduced level of VC activity. While bombing might reduce 
somewhat the level of support for the VC and give the GVN a respite, there was 
very little likelihood that it would break the will of Hanoi. The estimate was 
that Hanoi was confident of greater staying power than the U.S. in a contest 
of attrition. These views were challenged by the JCS member who stressed that 
the military damage of air strikes would appreciably degrade DRV and VC 
capabilities. In deference to this view, the final Working Group estimate gave 
greater emphasis to the military effectiveness of strikes, although it was pessi- 
mistic about the extent of damage the DRV leaders would be willing to incur 
before reconsidering their objectives. It concluded with the assessment that there 
was very little likelihood of either Chinese or Soviet intervention on behalf of 
the DRV if pressures were adopted by the U.S. 

As the Working Group toiled through November in its effort to develop op- 
tions, it focused on three alternative courses of action. Option A was essentially 
a continuation of military and naval actions currently underway or authorized 
in the September decisions, including prompt reprisals against the North for 
attacks on U.S. forces and VC "spectaculars." It also included a resistance to 
negotiations until the North had agreed in advance to our conditions. Option B 
augmented current policies with systematic, sustained military pressures against 
the North and a resistance to negotiations unless we could carry them on while 
continuing the bombing. Option C proposed only a modest campaign against the 
North as compared with option B and was designed to bring the DRV to the 
negotiating table. If that occurred the pressures were to be suspended — although 
with the threat of resumption should negotiations break down. 

In the course of the month, these options converged and the distinctions be- 
tween them blurred. In particular, option A was expanded to include some low- 
level pressures against the North; the negotiations element of option B was, in 
effect, dropped and the pressures were to be applied at a faster, less flexible pace; 
and option C was stiffened to resemble the first incarnation of option B — the 
pressures would be stronger and the negotiating position tougher. Thus, by the 
end of the month when the Working Group's proposals were presented to the 
NSC Principals for consideration before a recommendation was made to the 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 115 

President, all options included pressures against the North, and, in effect, ex- 
cluded negotiations in the short-run, since the terms and pre-conditions proposed 
in all three options were entirely unrealistic. The policy climate in Washington 
simply was not receptive to any suggestion that U.S. goals might have to be 
compromised. And, in proposing pressures against the North, the Working Group 
was conscious of the danger that they might generate compelling world-wide 
pressure on the U.S. for negotiations. How large a role the specific perception 
of the President's views, validated or unvalidated, may have played in the Work- 
ing Group's narrowing of the options is not clear. It seems likely, however, that 
some guidance from the White House was being received. 

During the last week in November, the NSC Principals met to consider the 
Working Group's proposals. They were joined on November 27 by Ambassador 
Taylor. Taylor's report on conditions in South Vietnam was extremely bleak. 
To improve South Vietnamese morale and confidence, and to "drive the DRV 
out of its reinforcing role and obtain its cooperation in bringing an end to the 
Viet Cong insurgency," he urged that military pressures against the North be 
adopted. His report had a considerable impact on the Principals and later on 
the President. As the discussions continued through the several meetings of that 
week, opinion began to converge in favor of some combination of an "extended 
option A" and the first measures against the North of option C. 

In the end, the Principals decided on a two-phase recommendation to the 
President. Phase I would be merely an extension of current actions with some in- 
creased air activity by the U.S. in Laos and tit-for-tat reprisals for VC attacks 
on U.S. forces or other major incidents. During this period, the GVN would 
be informed of our desires for its reform and when these were well underway, 
phase II, a campaign of gradually escalating air strikes against the North, would 
begin. This proposal was presented to the President on December 1. He approved 
phase I and gave assent, at least in principle, to phase II. In approving these 
measures, the President appears to have been reluctant to grant final authorization 
for phase II until he felt it was absolutely necessary. 

If a consensus was reached within the Administration in favor of military 
pressures against the North, it certainly reflected no commonly held rationale 
for such action. Generally speaking the military (MACV, CINCPAC, JCS) fa- 
vored a strong campaign against the North to interdict the infiltration routes, to 
destroy the overall capacity of the North to support the insurgency, and to de- 
stroy the DRV's will to continue support of the Viet Cong. The State Depart- 
ment (with the exception of George Ball) and the civilian advisors to Secretary 
McNamara favored a gradually mounting series of pressures that would place 
the North in a slow squeeze and act as both carrot and stick to settling the war 
on our terms. As would be expected. State was also concerned with the interna- 
tional political implications of such steps. Bombing the North would demon- 
strate our resolve, not only to the South Vietnamese but also to the other South- 
east Asian countries and to China, whose containment was one of the important 
justifications of the entire American involvement. Walt Rostow, the Chairman 
of State's Policy Planning Council, took a slightly differently view, emphasizing 
the importance of pressures as a clear signal to the North and to China of U.S. 
determination and resolve and its willingness to engage the tremendous power 
at its disposal in support of the 1954 and 1962 Geneva agreements. Ambassador 
Taylor supported strikes against the North as a means of reducing infiltration 
and as a way of bolstering South Vietnamese morale. 

As is readily apparent, there was no dearth of reasons for striking North. In- 
deed, one almost has the impression that there were more reasons than were 

116 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

required. But in the end, the decision to go ahead with the strikes seems to have 
resulted as much from the lack of alternative proposals as from any compelling 
logic advanced in their favor. By January, for example, William Bundy, while 
still supporting the pressures, could only offer the following in their favor: 

on balance we believe that such action would have some faint hope of 
really improving the Vietnamese situation, and, above all, would put us 
in a much stronger position to hold the next line of defense, namely Thai- 
land. [And it would put us in a better position in our Asian relations] 
since we would have appeared to Asians to have done a lot more about 

It is interesting to note that during the deliberations of September one of the 
preconditions to such strikes had been generally acknowledged as a unity of 
domestic American opinion in support of such Presidentially authorized action. 
During the November debates, this is no longer an important factor. Indeed, it 
is openly conceded that such action is likely to evoke opposition in both domestic 
and international public opinion. Another interesting aspect of this policy debate 
was that the question of Constitutional authority for open acts of war against a 
sovereign nation was never seriously raised. 

Phase I of the newly approved program went into effect in mid-December. 
The BARREL ROLL "armed recce" by U.S. aircraft in the Laotian panhandle 
began on a limited scale on December 14. It had been foreseen that the number 
of sorties would slowly increase with each succeeding week. However, once the 
first week's level of two missions of four aircraft each was determined by 
Secretary McNamara, it became the guideline for the remainder of December 
and January. Covert GVN operations along the North Vietnamese coast were 
continued at about the level of the previous months and ICS proposals for direct 
U.S. air and naval support were rejected. Furthermore, the public disclosure of 
information on DRV infiltration into the South was deferred at the request of 
Secretary McNamara. On December 24, the Viet Cong bombed a U.S. officers' 
billet in Saigon killing two Americans. MACV, CINCPAC, the ICS, and Ambas- 
sador Taylor all called immediately for a reprisal strike against the North of the 
kind authorized under phase I. For reasons still not clear, the Administration 
decided against such a reprisal. Thus, in purely military terms, the phase I period 
turned out to be little more than a continuation of measures already underway. 
(The BARREL ROLL activity apparently was not differentiated by the DRV 
from RLAF strikes until well into January.) 

One of the explanations for this failure to fully implement the December 1 
decisions was the political crisis that erupted in South Vietnam. Ambassador 
Taylor had returned to South Vietnam on December 7 and immediately set about 
getting the GVN to undertake the reforms we desired, making clear to both the 
civilian and military leaders that the implementation of phase II was contingent 
on their efforts to revive the flagging war effort and morale in the South. For his 
efforts, he was rewarded with a military purge of the civilian government in late 
December and rumored threats that he would be declared persona non grata. 
The political crisis boiled on into January with no apparent solution in sight in 
spite of our heavy pressure on the military to return to a civilian regime. And, 
while Taylor struggled with the South Vietnamese generals, the war effort con- 
tinued to decline. 

At the same time that Taylor had been dispatched to Saigon a vigorous U.S. 
diplomatic effort had been undertaken with our Asian and NATO allies to inform 
them of the forthcoming U.S. intensification of the war, with the expected 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 117 

eventual strikes against the North. The fact that our allies now came to expect 
this action may have been a contributing reason in the February decision to 
proceed with phase II in spite of the failure of the South Vietnamese to have 
complied with our requirements. In any case, it added to the already considerable 
momentum behind the policy of striking the North. By the end of January 1965, 
William Bundy, McNaughton, Taylor and others had come to believe that we had 
to proceed with phase II irrespective of what the South Vietnamese did. 

Clear indication that the Administration was considering some kind of escala- 
tion came on January 25. Ambassador Taylor was asked to comment on a 
proposal to withdraw U.S. dependents from Saigon so as to "clear the decks." 
Previously, this action, which was now approved by the JCS, was always associ- 
ated with pressures against the North. While there is no indication of any 
decision at this point to move into phase 11, it is clear that the preparations were 
already underway. 

[End of Summary] 


11 May 63 NSAM 52 

Authorized CIA-sponsored covert operations against NVN. 

9 Sep 63 CINCPAC OP LAN 34-63 

JCS approved this program for non-attributable "hit and run" 
GVN covert operations against NVN, supported by U.S. military 
advisory materiel and training assistance. 

I Nov 63 Diem overthrown 

Military junta led by General Minh assumed control. 

20 Nov 63 Vietnam Policy Conference, Honolulu 

During high-level USG discussions of the probable consequences, 
political and military, of Diem's downfall, conferees agreed mili- 
tary operations against the Viet Cong had not been and would not 
be particularly upset by the changed political situation. Develop- 
ment of a combined MACV-CAS program for covert operations 
against NVN was directed. 

23 Nov 63 President Kennedy Assassinated 

26 Nov 63 NSAM 273 

Authorized planning for specific covert operations, graduated in 
intensity, against the DRV. 

II Dec 63 State Department Views on Operations in Laos 

State (and ISA) opposed overt military operations in Laos. Ex- 
tension of CIA-sponsored covert activity in Laos was okayed: this 
neither threatened Souvanna's sovereignty nor openly violated 
the Geneva Accords which State termed basic to eventual political 
stability in the region. 

19 Dec 63 OPLAN 34 A Submitted by CINCPAC 

The MACV-CAS plan providing a "spectrum of capabilities for 
the RVNAF to execute against North Vietnam" was forwarded to 
the JCS with CINCPAC's comment that only air attacks and a 
few other "punitive or attritional" operations were likely to 
achieve the stated objective of convincing Hanoi to cease sup- 
porting insurgents in SVN and Laos. 

118 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

30 Dec 63 Memo for the Director, CIA 

Assessing "Probable Reactions to Various Courses of Action with 
Respect to North Vietnam" the Board of National Estimates 
studied 13 proposed covert operations. The BNE did not think 
any would convince NVN to change its policies. Hanoi's reaction 
to them was forecast as mild. 

2 Jan 64 Krulak Committee Report 

"Least risk" activities drawn from the 2062 in OPLAN 34A 
formed the basis of a 12-month, three-phase program of covert 
operations. MACV would exercise operational control, CAS and 
CINCPAC would train and equip the GVN or third-nation per- 
sonnel involved. Phase One (February-May) included intelligence 
collection (through U-2 and special intelligence missions), psy- 
chological operations and some 20 "destructive" undertakings. 
Similar operations would be increased in number and intensity 
during Phases Two and Three; destructive acts would be ex- 
tended to targets "identified with North Vietnam's economic and 
industrial well-being." Committee members reasoned that Hanoi 
attached great importance to economic development, that progres- 
sive damage to the economy — or its threatened destruction — 
would convince Hanoi to cancel support of insurgency. But the 
committee cautioned, even successful execution of the program 
might not induce Hanoi to "cease and desist." 

22 Jan 64 JCSM 46-64 

Criticizing "self-imposed restrictions" on operations in Laos, 
arguing that Laotian security depended on that of South Vietnam, 
the JCS requested authority to initiate reconnaissance operations 
over and into Laos. Without them the task in Vietnam was made 
"more complex, time consuming . . . more costly." 

30 Jan 64 Coup in Saigon 

Minh's junta was ousted by one headed by General Khanh. 

Early Situation in Laos and South Vietnam 

Feb 64 NVA troop influx into Laos rose significantly and a similar rise 

was feared in SVN; Viet Cong terrorism continued to increase. 

1 Feb 64 OPLAN 34 A 

Phase One of the covert activities program began. 

20 Feb 64 Lodge Msg. to McGeorge Bundy 

Ambassador Lodge urged adoption of a "carrot and stick" ap- 
proach to North Vietnam (first presented to Governor Harriman 
on 30 October 1963). Lodge envisaged secret contact with 
Hanoi to demand NVN cease supporting the Viet Cong. In ex- 
change the U.S. would offer economic aid (especially food im- 
ports). If Hanoi refused the offer, previously threatened punitive 
strikes would be initiated. The U.S. would not publicly admit 
to the attacks. 

20 Feb 64 

NSC Meeting 

President Johnson ordered more rapid contingency planning for 
pressures — covert and overt — against North Vietnam and ordered 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 119 

pressures shaped to produce the maximum credible deterrent 
effect on Hanoi. 

This decision reflects the convergence of (1) fear that the Laos 
situation could get worse; (2) knowledge that this would affect 
U.S. operations and policies in Vietnam; (3) recognition that 
more U.S. military assistance to the GVN was required to exe- 
cute OPLAN 34A; (4) and the increasing articulation by policy 
makers (JCS, SecState) of a direct relationship between the 
challenge of halting NVN assistance to insurgents and broader 
U.S. strategic interests. Together, these factors increased the at- 
tractiveness of proposals for punitive, overt actions against NVN. 

Draft Presidential Memorandum 

State recommended 12 F-lOO's be deployed to Thailand to deter 
further NVN activity in Laos and to signal U.S. determination. 

JCSM 159-64 

"Steps to Improve the Situation in Southeast Asia with Particular 
Reference to Laos" asked authority to initiate low-level recon- 
naissance flights over Laos for intelligence collection and to visibly 
display U.S. power. The JCS argued the "root of the problem is 
in North Vietnam and must be dealt with there," but if operations 
against NVN had to be ruled out, operations in Laos must not be. 
They urged that Laos and South Vietnam be treated as an in- 
tegrated theatre. 

29 Feb 64 Director, DIA Memorandum for the Secretary 

Reporting on "North Vietnamese Support to the Viet Cong and 
Pathet Lao," DIA said certain "intelligence gaps" related to kinds 
and amounts of arms, supplies and men infiltrating SVN through 
Laos. The JCS favored closing such gaps by overt military opera- 
tions; State opposed. 

1 Mar 64 Interim Report: "Alternatives for the Imposition of Measured 
Pressure against NVN" 

An Interagency Study Group under State's Vietnam Committee 
listed these as U.S. objectives: make Hanoi cease support of the 
Viet Cong; strengthen GVN and Asian morale and reduce VC 
morale; prove to the world U.S. determination to oppose Com- 
munist expansion. 

Military means to attain those objectives were explored — ranging 
from the air defense of Saigon and US/GVN cross-border opera- 

t tions to the massive deployment of U.S. ground troops and air 
strikes against North Vietnam. The group believed unilateral U.S. 
actions wouldcnotycompel Hanoi to call off the Viet Cong (and 
doubted Hanoi could do that anyway); operations against NVN 

, were termed no substitute for successful counterinsurgency in 

However, expanded activity could demonstrate U.S. power, de- 
termination and restraint to the world, reduce somewhat NVN 
support to the Viet Cong, cause "some reduction" Viet Cong 
morale, and possibly improve the U.S. negotiating position. "New 
U.S. bolstering actions" in South Vietnam and considerable im- 
provement of the situation there were required to reduce VC 

25 Feb 64 

26 Feb 64 

120 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

activity and make victory on the ground possible, according to the 

/ Mar 64 Embassy Vientiane Message 927 for SecState 

Reasoned that if current USG policy toward Laos is changed 
(e.g., if the Geneva Accords were openly violated), large numbers 
of U.S. troops will eventually be required to enforce political 

2 Mar 64 JCSM 168-64 

Requesting "Removal of Restrictions for Air and Ground Cross 
Border Operations," the Joint Chiefs said direct action had to be 
taken to convince NVN the U.S. was determined to eliminate 
the insurgents' Laotian sanctuary. ". . . The time has come to 
lift the restrictions which limit the effectiveness of our military 

2 Mar 64 JCSM 174-64 

The Chiefs recommended direct strikes against North Vietnam. 
In line with their view (JCSM 159-64) that the root of the prob- 
lem was North Vietnam, the JCS justified the need for overt 
action against NVN on two grounds: first, to support the short- 
term policy objective of stopping Hanoi's aid to the insurgents; 
second, to support the long-range objective of forcing a change in 
DRV policy by convincing Hanoi the U.S. was determined to op- 
pose aggression in Southeast Asia. 

75 Mar 64 Lodge Msg. for the President (State 1757) 

Reiterating his preference for the "carrot and stick" approach to 
Hanoi, Lodge opposed initiation of overt actions against North 

16 Mar 64 SecDef Memo for the President 

Reporting on his recent trip to Honolulu and Saigon, McNamara 
recommended against overt actions (U.S. or GVN) against NVN 
"at this time" because of the problems of justification, communist 
escalation and pressures for premature negotiations. McNamara 
felt the practical range of overt actions did not allow assured 
achievement of practical U.S. objectives. (Like the Interagency 
Group, the Secretary distinguished between the stated aim of 
eliminating Hanoi's control of the Viet Cong and the practical 
objective of building the morale of the Khanh regime while 
eroding VC morale.) 

The Secretary did favor military action against NVN in Laos. He 
recommended initiation by GVN forces of "hot pursuit" and 
small-scale operations across the Laotian border, plus continua- 
tion of U.S. high-level reconnaissance flights over Laos. He 
recommended the U.S. prepare planning for 72-hour readiness to 
initiate Laos and Cambodian border control actions and prepare 
plans for "retaliatory actions" (overt high and/or low level recon- 
naissance flights, "tit-for-tat" bombing strikes, commando raids) 
against NVN. He also recommended planning for 30 days' readi- 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 121 

ness to initiate the "program of Graduated Overt Military Pres- 
sure" against North Vietnam.* 

17 Mar 64 N SAM 288 

Approved Mr. McNamara's report and his twelve recommenda- 
tions to improve the military situation. Planning was to "proceed 

17 Mar 64 President's Message to Lodge {State 1454) 

On North Vietnam, the President indicated agreement with 
Lodge's "carrot and stick" approach and said he had reserved 
judgment on overt U.S. measures against NVN. 
On Laos, the President said he was reluctant to inaugurate overt 
activities unless or until he had Souvanna's support and a stronger 
case had been made for the necessity of overt operations. Other- 
wise the President felt such action ". . . might have only limited 
military effect and could trigger wider Communist action in 

17 Mar 64 Lodge Message to SecState {State 1767) 

Reported GVN-RLG agreement on political and military issues. 
Diplomatic relations had been reestablished. Laos granted free 
passage into southern Laos to GVN forces, the right to bomb in- 
filtration areas with unmarked T-28s and to conduct hot pursuit, 
commando raids and sabotage operations "without limit" into 
Laotian territory to combined RLG-GVN units. A combined 
Laotian-Vietnamese staff was to be created. 

18 Mar 64 JCS Message 5390 to CINCPAC 

The JCS directed CINCPAC to begin "Planning Actions, Viet- 
nam" in line with Recommendations 11 and 12 of NSAM 288. 
The program was to "permit sequential implementation" of three 
actions (border controls, retaliatory cross-border operations with 
72-hour responsiveness, graduated overt military pressures against 
NVN with 30-days responsiveness). 

20 Mar 64 President's Message to Lodge (State 1484) 

Confirmed that actions with North Vietnam as the target men- 
tioned in NSAM 288 were regarded strictly as contingency plan- 
ning and that interagency study was so oriented. 

31 Mar 64 State/ISA Draft Scenarios 

State/ISA planners presented three papers. The first was a scenario 
for current actions (political steps to increase Congressional and 
international understanding of U.S. aims plus continued military 
action by GVN with U.S. advisory assistance). The second 
scenario called for overt GVN/covert U.S. action against NVN 
(characterized by the GVN-USAF FARMGATE operation); it 
emphasized political initiatives which would surface in Saigon 
and thus retain credibility for GVN sovereignty. The third 

* Here McNamara probably referred to the various plans for graduated pressure 
against NVN then being discussed; no actual "program" had yet been finalized or 

122 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

scenario — associated with overt U.S. response to DRV-CHICOM 
escalation — also included diplomatic and political preparations for 
overt U.S. activity. 

13 Apr 64 J -5 Memorandum for the ASD(ISA) 

Commenting on the 31 March scenario, the Joint Staff outlined a 
continually intensifying program of military pressures — and grad- 
ually increasing U.S. military involvement. J-5 urged the 31 
March scenario be fused with OPLAN 37-64 and border control 
operations be moved into the scenario for the current time period. 
Approximate time-phasing of the draft's then separate scenarios 
was recommended. 

8 and 17 Scenario Drafts 

Apr 64 Reflecting the JCS influence toward development of a continuous 

scenario, current political activities were treated in a separate 
section, "Steps Which Should be Taken Now." The other political- 
military scenarios included increased FARMGATE operations, 
separate Laotian and Cambodian border control actions, separate 
GVN retaliatory actions against NVN, and graduated overt U.S. 
military pressures against NVN. The detailed scenario for GVN/ 
FARMGATE operations was given D-Day minus X time-phasing; 
apparently it was the basis for discussions held in Saigon on 19- 
20 April. 

18—20 Saigon Conference 

Apr 64 Scenarios and other issues were discussed by Lodge, William 

Bundy, Rusk, Wheeler, and others. Lodge objected to planning 
for — or adopting — massive publicity and massive destruction ac- 
tions before trying a well-reasoned, well-planned diplomatic effort 
to convince Hanoi to "call off the VC." His "carrot/stick" ap- 
proach was expanded: Lodge suggested a third country inter- 
locuteur be selected to tell Hanoi of U.S. resolve, that the threat 
of air strikes be combined with an economic assistance offer and 
that as part of the "carrot" the U.S. offer to withdraw some per- 
sonnel from South Vietnam. 

Rusk wanted the extent of NVN infiltration and support to be 
satisfactorily proved to U.S. citizens, allies and neutrals; he 
wanted Asian military support for the U.S. Rusk did not think 
China would intervene militarily without Soviet support and 
thought we could pressure the Chinese economically through our 
allies. He doubted elimination of DRV industrial targets would 
have much adverse impact on any NVN decision to stop aiding 
the insurgency. 

Results: Canada would be asked to act as interlocuteur. Also, 
Secretary Rusk recommended the U.S. seek "more flags" to sup- 
port the GVN, deploy a carrier task force to Cam Ranh Bay to 
establish a permanent U.S. Naval presence, initiate anti-junk 
operations to "inch northward" along the coast and enlist SEATO 
support in isolating the DRV from economic or cultural rela- 
tions with the Free World. 

23 Apr 64 

SecDef Memorandum to CJCS 

This forwarded the 20 April scenario which contained three 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 123 

stages: uncommitting steps to be taken now; graduated overt 
pressures on the DRV (FARMGATE) ; and a contingency plan 
for overt U.S. response to DRV/CHICOM escalation. The first 
stage could stand alone, but stage two could not be launched un- 
less the U.S. was prepared to take the third step — perhaps within 
10 days of the previous "D-Day." 

23 Apr 64 Rostow Memorandum for SecState 

Reasoning that deterioration in Laos and SVN would make it 
very difficult to win Hanoi's adherence to the Geneva Accords 
and predicting deterioration was imminent, Rostow implied nec- 
essary (U.S.) actions should be taken soon. 

30 Apr 64 Rusk Visit to Ottawa 

Set up the Seaborn Mission (interlocuteur) to Hanoi for mid- 

4 May 64 Lodge to SecState {State 2108) 

This reflects the deliberate, cautious approach then dominant. In 
talking with General Khanh (who suggested putting SVN fully on 
a war footing and wanted to tell NVN that further interference 
in GVN affairs would bring reprisals), Lodge urged Khanh to 
keep cool and asked that McNamara similarly emphasize the need 
to avoid such drastic measures during his 12 May meeting with 

7 May 64 Talking Paper for the Secretary 

In addition to the Lodge suggestions, McNamara was to tell 
Khanh the U.S. did "not intend to provide military support nor 
undertake the military objective of 'rolling back' communist con- 
trol in NVN." 

12—13 McNamara/ Sullivan Trip to Vietnam 

May 64 Khanh and McNamara met and apparently discussed the issues 

mentioned above. 

16 May 64 JCSM 422-64 

ICS criticized the final draft scenario for omitting the immediate 
actions mentioned in NSAM 288 (border control and retaliatory 
operations); advocated incorporating retaliatory and overt mili- 
tary pressures against NVN in the second stage, as well as bat- 
talion-size border control operations in Laos to include striking 
bridges and armed route reconnaissance. These were justified in 
JCS eyes because military operations against the DRV to help 
stabilize either the Laos or SVN situation involved attacking the 
same target systems and to a large extent, the same targets. JCS 
felt attacks would assist '\ . . in the achievement of the objec- 
tive" and offer ". . . the possibility of a favorable long-term so- 
lution to the insurgency problem in Southeast Asia." 

17 May 64 Pathet Lao Offensive 

The Pathet Lao seized a significant portion of the Plaine des 
Jarres in Laos — a major setback for RLG forces. 

19 May 64 JCSM 426-64 

Clearly indicating the crisis management aspects of the scene 

124 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

created by Pathet Lao gains, the JCS now called for new, more 
intensive covert operations during the second phase of OPLAN 

21 May 64 At the UN . . . 

Adlai Stevenson's major speech explaining U.S. policy toward 
Southeast Asia was the first such U.S. move at the UN. 

21 May 64 Baltimore Sun Report 

With Souvanna's permission, the U.S. began low-level recon- 
naissance operations over enemy-occupied areas in Laos. 

21 May 64 Rusk Message to Lodge {State 2027) 

Rusk said Washington saw the fragility of the SVN situation as an 
obstacle to further U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia. 
He asked Lodge to suggest ways to achieve greater solidarity in 
SVN saying, "we need to assure the President that everything 
humanly possible is being done both in Washington and the Gov- 
ernment of Vietnam to provide a solid base of determination from 
which far-reaching decisions could proceed." 

23 May 64 JCSM 445-64 

The JCS renewed their plea for prompt "Readiness to Implement 
NSAM 288." Larger border control and retaliatory operations 
were called for; prompt consultations with the GVN and im- 
mediate joint operations were said to be needed. 

23 May 64 Draft Presidential Memorandum 

The crisis in Laos had focused interest on but one stage of earlier 
scenarios: overt operations against NVN. The scenario for steps 
to be taken now had been dropped (as Rusk explained to Lodge 
on 22 May — State 2049 — because initial attacks without ac- 
knowledgement were not feasible; publicity seemed inevitable). 
The scenario called for 30 days of graduated military/political 
pressures (including initiatives to enter negotiations with Hanoi). 
A Congressional Resolution supporting U.S. resistance to DRV 
aggression was called for; air strikes would continue — despite 
negotiations — until it was clear that NVN had ceased subversion. 
Negotiating objectives were: terrorism, armed attack and armed 
resistance would stop; "communications on networks out of the 
North would be conducted entirely in uncoded form." 

25 May 64 SNIE 50-2-64 

An estimate of the likely consequences of actions proposed in the 
23 May DPM (discussed by the Executive Committee, or ExCom, 
on 24, 25 and 26 May). NVN might order guerrillas to reduce 
"the level of insurrections for the moment" in response to U.S. 
force deployments or FARMGATE attacks; with Peking and 
Moscow, Hanoi might count on international actions to end the 
attacks and stabilize communist gains. If attacks continued, Hanoi 
might intensify political initiatives and possibly increase the tempo 
of insurgency. If these failed to bring a settlement and if attacks 
damaged NVN considerably, the SNIE estimated NVN would 
lower negotiating demands to preserve its regime — and plan to 
renew insurgency later. The SNIE saw "significant danger" that 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 125 

Hanoi would fight because (1) NVN did not think the U.S. 
would commit ground forces and (2) even if U.S. troops were 
sent, NVN believed they could be defeated a la 1954. Affecting 
the will of NVN leaders was emphasized. None of the actions 
forecast in the DPM would affect enemy capabilities because the 
major sources of "communist strength in SVN are indigenous." 
The SNIE said the DRV must (be made to) understand that the 
U.S. — not seeking to destroy NVN — is willing to "bring ascend- 
ing pressure to bear to persuade Hanoi to reduce the insurrections." 
The report added ". . . retaliatory measures which Hanoi might 
take in Laos and South Vietnam might make it increasingly dif- 
ficult for the U.S. to regard its objectives as attainable by limited 
means. Thus difficulties of comprehension might increase on both 
sides as the scale of action mounted." 

25 May 64 McGeorge Bundy Memorandum to Rusk, et al. 

The ExCom abandoned the scenario approach — perhaps because 
entering into escalating conflict might obscure the limited U.S. 
objectives. The ExCom recommended the President decide that 
the U.S. will use graduated military force against NVN after ap- 
propriate diplomatic and political warning and preparation; 
evident U.S. determination to act — combined with other efforts — 
"should produce a sufficient improvement of non-communist 
prospects in South Vietnam and in Laos to make military action 
against North Vietnam unnecessary." 

OR: The ExCom explicitly assumed that a decision to use force 
if necessary — backed by resolute deployment and conveyed every 
way possible ". . . gives the best present chance of avoiding the 
actual use of such force." Other actions recommended were: 
communicate U.S. resolve through the Canadian interlocuteur; 
call a high-level Southeast Asian strategy conference; begin 
diplomatic efforts at the UN to present the case for DRV ag- 
gression; consult with SEATO allies and obtain allied force com- 
mitments; seek a Congressional Resolution in support of U.S. 
resistance to NVN in SEA; deploy forces periodically to the 
region; consider an initial strike against NVN "designed to have 
more deterrent than destructive impact" and accompany it by an 
active diplomatic offensive to restore stability — including an 
agreement to a Geneva Conference. 

26 May 64 Lodge Message to Rusk {State 2318) 

Lodge said only firm action against North Vietnam by the U.S. 
and GVN could lead to a significant improvement in the GVN 
effort. (A "new wrinkle" in Lodge's view.) 

27 May 64 Polish Initiative 

Poland proposed a Laos conference format which avoided many 
undesirable aspects of those formerly supported by communist 

29 May 64 State Message to Rusk {TOSEC 36) 

The ExCom, preferring to initially treat Laos independently of 
Vietnam, recommended the President accept the Polish proposal. 

126 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

The U.S. would not be willing to write off Laos to the communists 
and would assure Souvanna: "We would be prepared to give him 
prompt and direct military support if the Polish Conference . . ." 

30 May 64 JCSM 460-64 

Advocating "Air Strikes Against North Vietnam," the JCS felt 
NVN support to insurgents could be reduced by armed reconnais- 
sance of highways leading into Laos, striking airfields identified 
with supporting insurgents, striking supply, ammunition and POL 
storage sites and miHtary installations connected with PL/VC 
support. The JCS said Hanoi's "military capability to take action 
against Laos and the RVN" would result from hitting "remain- 
ing" airfields, important railroad and highway bridges, depots in 
northern NVN and from aerial mining and bombing of POL 
\^^. ^ stores in Hanoi and Haiphong. The Chiefs also outlined the 

^^^^"^^"^ capability to effectively destroy the entire NVN industrial^base. 

2 Jun 64 JCS]^6p64 {CJCS non-concurred) 

Recommended the U.S. seek to destroy Hanoi's will and capabil- 
ities, as necessary, to support the insurgency. They called for 
"positive, prompt and meaningful military action" — mainly air 
strikes — to show NVN "we are now determined that (its support 
to insurgency) will stop" and to show NVN we can and will 
make them incapable of rendering such support. 

2 Jun 64 SECTO 37 

Rusk reported General Khanh's views: Khanh felt the GVN 
could not win against the Viet Cong without some military action 
outside its borders; he wanted insurgent forces in eastern Laos 
cleaned out — by GVN forces and U.S. air support; he recom- 
mended selected air attacks against NVN "designed to minimize 
the chances of a drastic communist response." 

1—2 Jun 64 Honolulu Conference 

Conferees assessing overall U.S. policy toward Southeast Asia 
agreed with State that the point of departure ". . . is and must 
be that we cannot accept (the) over-running of Southeast Asia by 
Hanoi and Peking." "OperationaF'— not policy — aspects of air 
operations against NVN were the main points of discussion, with 
attention centered on the effect of pressures in Laos, preparatory 
steps necessary for a Laotian contingency and probable reper- 

Evaluating possible communist reaction to pressures against NVN, 
Mr. McNamara said the "best current view" was an appropriately 
limited attack against NVN, which would not bring CHICOM 
air or NVN/CHICOM ground forces. Westmoreland felt there 
was no significant unused capability left to the VC; Lodge said 
the VC had a major capability for terrorism, even for military 
action against Saigon. Like Khanh, Lodge also felt selective bomb- 
ing would build morale and unity in South Vietnam. 
Results: The U.S. would seek international (beginning with U.S.- 
Thai consultations) and domestic support (through a Congres- 
sional Resolution) for wider U.S. actions. ("Wider" could mean 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 127 

committing up to seven U.S. divisions and calling up the reserves 
. . as the action unToiids.") But actual expansion of the U.S. 
role w^ould be postponed for these and other politico-military rea- 

3 Jun 64 William Bundy Memorandum for SecState 

The report to the President on Honolulu was probably based on 
this paper in which Bundy recapped talks there and called for 
time to "refine" plans and estimates, to "get at" basic doubts 
about the value of Southeast Asia and the importance of the U.S. 
stake there. 

Mid-Jun 64 Post-Honolulu Military Actions 

Mr. McNamara discussed NVN targets, troop movement capa- 
bilities with the JCS (8 June); he wanted facts and statistics on 
Haiphong traffic, existing plans for and estimated impact of min- 
ing the harbor, alternative DRV importation facilities. He ordered 
immediate improvement in effectiveness and readiness plus some 
expansion of prepositioned stocks in Thailand and Okinawa. 

Mid-Jun 64 Post-Honolulu Non-Military Activity 

State began gathering information on prevalent public questions 
about the U.S. in Vietnam, in Southeast Asia; interagency groups 
studied implications of a Congressional Resolution; Rusk (14 
June), President Johnson (23 June) and others spoke publicly on 
U.S. goals in Asia, U.S. determination to support its Southeast 
Asian allies. 

9 Jun 64 Memorandum for the Director, CIA 

President Johnson asked: "Would the rest of Southeast Asia 
necessarily fall if Laos and South Vietnam came under NVN 
control?" The CIA response said Cambodia "might" but no other 
nation "would quickly succumb." U.S. prestige, credibility and 
position in the Far East would be profoundly damaged but the 
wider U.S. interest in containing overt mihtary attacks would not 
be affected. All of this was predicated on a clear-cut communist 
victory in Laos and South Vietnam and U.S. withdrawal from the 
area. The Agency called results of a "fuzzy" outcome harder to 

10 Jun 64 SecDef Memorandum to CJCS (Response to CM-1451-64, 5 June 


McNamara supported Taylor's criticism of JCSM 461-64 (2 
June), agreeing that the two courses of action presented by the 
Chiefs were neither accurate nor complete. Taylor saw three ways 
in which air power could be used to pressure NVN — and opted 
for the least dangerous. He recommended demonstrative strikes 
against limited military targets to show U.S. readiness and intent 
to move up the scale if NVN did not reduce insurgent support. 
Up the scale meant moving from demonstrative strikes to attacks 
against a significant part of the DRV military target system and 
ultimately, to massive attacks against all significant military tar- 
gets in NVN. By destroying them the U.S. would destroy NVN's 
capacity to support insurgency. 

128 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

12 Jun 64 William Bundy Memorandum 

Called for a Congressional Resolution right away to demonstrate 
U.S. resolve (especially to Souvanna and Khanh) and provide 
flexibility for executive action. 

15 Jun 64 McGeorge Bundy Memorandum to SecState, SecDef, et al. 

One subject was made the agenda for final talks about a Congres- 
sional Resolution: actions still open to the U.S. if both major 
miHtary operations and a Congressional Resolution are rejected at 
this time. White House guidance indicated that by taking limited 
military and political actions, the U.S. could demonstrate firm 
resistance without risking major escalation or loss of policy flexi- 

McGeorge Bundy suggested these possible limited actions, mili- 
tary: reconnaissance, strike, T-28 operations in all of Laos; small- 
scale reconnaissance strikes — after appropriate provocation — in 
NVN; VNAF strikes in Laotian corridors; limited air and sea, 
more limited ground deployments. (Bundy said major ground 
force deployments seem more questionable without a decision 
"to go north" in some form.) Political: "Higher authority" wants 
a maximum effort to increase allied real and visible presence in 
support of Saigon; make intensive efforts to sustain Souvanna; 
rapidly develop province and information programs, strengthen 
the country team, shift the U.S. role from advice to direction; 
opposing both aggressive adventure and withdrawal, explain the 
above lines of action (especially in the U.S.) and leave the door 
open to selected military actions. 

Unless the enemy provoked drastic measures, the ExCom agreed 
that defense of "U.S. interests . . . over the next six months" is 
possible within limits. Both a Congressional Resolution and wider 
U.S. action were deferred. 

DESOTO naval patrols off North Vietnam reauthorized 
Authority was given to resume the DESOTO destroyer patrols off 
North Vietnam. They had been suspended since March. 

Covert GVN attack on North Vietnam 

The night before the USS MADDOX is to resume her patrols off 
the North Vietnamese coast, South Vietnamese commandos raid 
two North Vietnamese islands. 

31 Jul 1964 USS MADDOX resumes patrol off North Vietnam 

After a six month suspension, the USS MADDOX resumed the 
DESOTO patrols off the coast of North Vietnam. 

1 Aug 1964 British seek meeting of three Laotian princes 

Acting on Souvanna Phouma's request, the British government 
urged the ICC members to arrange a meeting among the three 
Laotian political factions as represented by the three rival princes. 

2 Aug 1964 China urges USSR not to resign Geneva co-chairmanship 

The Chinese Communists urged the USSR not to carry out its 
threat to abandon its co-chairman role in the Geneva settlements, 
apparently viewing such a development as jeopardizing the pos- 
sibilities of a Geneva settlement of the current Laotian crisis. 

17 Jul 1964 
30 Jul 1964 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964— Jan. 1965 129 
DRV PT boats attack MADDOX 

Apparently mistaking the MADDOX for South Vietnamese, three 
DRV patrol boats launched a torpedo and machine gun attack 
on her. Responding immediately to the attack, and with the help 
of air support from the nearby carrier TICONDEROGA, the 
MADDOX destroyed one of the attacking boats and damaged 
the other two. The MADDOX, under 7th Fleet orders, retired 
to South Vietnamese waters where she is joined by the C. TUR- 

3 Aug 1964 U.S. protest through ICC 

A stiff U.S. protest of the attack on the MADDOX is dispatched 
to Hanoi through the ICC. It warns that "grave consequences" 
will result from any future attacks on U.S. forces. 

DESOTO patrol resumed 

The JCS approved a CINCPAC request to resume the DESOTO 
patrol at 1350 hours, ordered the C. TURNER JOY to be added 
to it and authorized active defensive measures for the destroyers 
and their supporting aircraft. The President announced the action 
later that day. 

G VN again attacks North Vietnam 

The Rhon River estuary and the Vinh Sonh radar installation were 
bombarded under cover of darkness. 

4 Aug 1964 Second DRV naval attack on DESOTO patrol 

At about 2140 hours, after several hours of shadowing, a second 
PT boat attack on the augmented DESOTO task force was 
launched. This engagement in the dark lasted about three hours 
and resulted in two patrol boats destroyed. 

Reprisal alerts 

At 0030 hours (5 Aug 1964 Vietnam time), "alert orders" for 
possible reprisal air strikes were given to the TICONDEROGA 
and a second carrier, the CONSTELLATION, that had been 
steaming toward the area from Hong Kong since Aug 3. 

NSC meeting 

At 1230, Washington time, the NSC convened after a brief meet- 
ing of the JCS with the President. The JCS, McNamara and others 
recommended reprisals against the patrol craft and their bases. 
This the President approved. 

2nd NSC meeting 

After a confusing afternoon in which the attacks were double- 
checked and verified, the NSC met again at 1700, confirmed the 
reprisal order, and discussed incremental force deployments to 
the Western Pacific. 

Congressional briefing 

At 1845 the President met with 16 Congressional leaders, briefed 
them on the proposed attacks and informed them of his intention 
to ask for a joint Congressional resolution of support. None raised 

130 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

5 Aug 1964 U Thant calls for 14-nation conference on Laos 

In an unrelated development, UN Secretary General U Thant 
called for the rescheduHng of the 14-nation conference to deal 
with the Laotian situation. 

Presidential message to Congress 

In a formal message to both houses of Congress, the President 
requested passage of a joint resolution of support for U.S. policy 
in Southeast Asia. Concurrently, identical draft resolutions pre- 
pared by the executive branch were introduced in the Senate by 
Senator Fulbright, and in the House, by Representative Morgan. 

6 Aug 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolutions discussed in committee 

Both houses heard top Administration officials, including Secretary 
McNamara, testify in behalf of the pending resolutions. 

Force deployments 

The additional forces deployments, particularly air forces, begin 
to move to the theatre. 

7 Aug 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution passes Congress 

The Tonkin Gulf resolution was passed in both houses by near 
unanimous vote. 

Khanh proclaims himself President 

Declaring a state of emergency. General Khanh proclaimed him- 
self President of South Vietnam and claims virtual dictatorial 

State message 136, Rusk to Vietiane and others 
Concern over not provoking a communist military escalation in 
Laos, particularly in view of the Tonkin Gulf reprisals, prompted 
State to defer temporarily approval of air and ground initiatives 
in the Laotian panhandle. 

9 Aug 1964 Embassy Saigon message 363, Taylor to Rusk 

Taylor opposes a 14-nation Geneva Conference as likely to under- 
mine the little stability the fragile GVN still has. He further states 
that the reprisals, while effective in the short run, do not deal 
with the continuing problem of DRV infiltration which must be 
confronted. He felt there was need for follow-up action to demon- 
strate to the DRV that the rules of the game had changed. 

10 Aug 1964 U.S. message to Hanoi through Canadian ICC representative 

Through the Canadian representative on the ICC, the U.S. com- 
municated its uncertainty about DRV motives in the Aug 4 
Tonkin Gulf raids, that additional air power deployed to SEA 
was precautionary, that U.S. official and public patience was wear- 
ing thin, that the Congressional resolution demonstrated U.S. 
determination in SEA, and that if the DRV pursued its present 
course, it could expect to suffer the consequences. 

11 Aug 1964 William Bundy memo to SecDef, "Next Courses of Action in 

Southeast Asia" 

Assistant Secretary of State Bundy felt that only a continuous 
combination of military pressure and communication would con- 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 131 

vince Hanoi that they were facing a determined foe and that they 
should get out of South Vietnam and Laos. 

14 Aug 1964 CJCS memo to SecDef, "Next Courses of Action in Southeast 

Positive assessment of the impact of the reprisal actions was given 
and a continuation of strikes against the North was recommended. 

State message 439 to Vientiane, Saigon, CINCPAC, "Southeast 
Asia, August 1964" 

In opposing both a new 14-nation Geneva Conference on South- 
east Asia, and U.S. air operations against the North, State stressed 
the shakiness of the GVN and the need to shore it up internally 
before any such actions were started. For planning purposes, the 
message suggested that Ambassador Taylor's suggested date of 
January 1, 1965, be used for any sustained U.S. air campaign 
against the North. 

75 Aug 1964 JCS message 7947 to CINCPAC, "Rules of Engagement" 

U.S. forces were authorized to attack any vessels or aircraft that 
attack or give positive indication of intent to attack, and to pur- 
sue such attackers into territorial waters or air space of all South- 
east Asian countries, including North Vietnam. 

16 Aug 1964 COMUSMACV message to CINCPAC, "Cross-Border Operations" 

MACV requested authority to begin the Phase I of the covert 
cross-border operations into Laos and North Vietnam. 

17 Aug 1964 CINCPAC message to JCS, "Next Courses of Action in South- 

east Asia" 

The positive impact of the reprisals on South Vietnamese morale 
is noted, and a strong argument made for continuing actions 
against the North to make clear to Hanoi and Peking the cost of 
their aggression. 

The momentum of the Aug 5 raids must not be lost or the benefits 
of the initial attacks will disappear. 

18 Aug 1964 Embassy Saigon message 465 

Taylor reiterates his belief that the reprisals must be followed up 
with other actions against the North. 

21 Aug 1964 Henry Rowen memo to JCS, et al, "The Rostow Thesis" 

Initially presented in Dec 1963, the "Rostow Thesis" was recircu- 
lated within the Administration in mid-August. Its fundamental 
argument was that military pressure against the external sources 
of an insurgency would bring the aggressor to an appreciation of 
the costs of his interference and he would reduce or eliminate his 
support for the insurgents. The exercise was primarily psychologi- 
cal, not necessarily strategic. The measures should greatly increase 
his uncertainty about the consequences of continued support of 
the insurgency. Rowen's critique raised serious questions about 
the general validity of the thesis, pointing out the requirement 
for solid public and political support for such actions, and doubt- 
ing that anywhere but in Southeast Asia U.S. interests were so 
critically at stake. Even in that area, it doubted the effectiveness 
of the proposal. 

132 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /'Vol. Ill 

26 Aug 1964 JCSM-746-64 

In response to State's Aug 14 analysis, the JCS proposed a con- 
tinuous and escalating air campaign against the North designed to 
both the physical resources and the psychological will to support 
the insurgency in the South. It called for deliberate attempts to 
provoke the DRV into actions which could then be answered by 
a systematic air campaign. 

27 Aug 1964 Three Laotian Princes meet 

The three Laotian Princes met in Paris as a result of the British 
initiative to begin discussions on the current crisis. 

31 Aug 1964 CINCPAC message to JCS, "Immediate Actions to be taken in 
South Vietnam" 

CINCPAC reiterates the request for approval of covert cross- 
border operations. 

3 Sep 1964 McN aught on paper, "Plan of Action for South Vietnam" 

In anticipation of the 7 September strategy meeting, McNaughton 
prepared a paper calling for actions that would provoke a DRV 
response that could be used as grounds for a U.S. escalation. 

Khanh reverts to Premiership 

His bid for dictatorial power having been rebuffed by the Army 
with popular support, Khanh reverted to his former title of 
Premier with greatly reduced power. Minh is to play a larger role. 

7 Sep 1964 JCS Talking Paper for CJCS, "Next Courses of Action for RVN" 
The JCS repeated its recommendations of 26 Aug and detailed 
it with a list of 94 targets for air strikes. 

White House strategy meeting; decisions in William Bundy memo 
to SecDef, et al., "Courses of Action for South Vietnam," 8 Sep 

With Ambassador Taylor returned from Saigon, a full dress strat- 
egy review of actions against the North is held at the White 
House. The Pentagon spokesmen, both m^lit^y^ and dvilian, 
favored immediate initiation of an escalatory air campaign against 
the North. iBut this was rejected on the grounds that the GVN 
was too weak to sustain the expected intensification of the war in 
the South it would evoke. This was the view of CIA, State and 
the White House. But a decision was made to resume the DESOTO 
patrols, the covert GVN coastal operations against the North, 
and to authorize limited cross-border operations into Laos when 

tSouvanna approved. It was further agreed that we would respond 
to any future DRV attacks on U.S. units on a tit-for-tat basis. 
These latter measures were to bolster GVN morale. 

10 Sep 1964 NSAM 314 

Formal approval of the 7 September decision was given in NSAM 

11 Sep 1964 Saigon ineeting on cross-border operations 

At a Saigon meeting of representatives of the U.S. missions in 
Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, it was agreed that the air opera- 
tions in Southern Laos would be carried out by RLAF aircraft 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 133 

for the present. As to ground operations, while their desirability 
was recognized, they were disapproved because of the flagrant 
violation of the Geneva Accords they would constitute. This 
objection by Vientiane was subsequently removed and company- 
size operations up to 20 kilometers into Laos were approved. 

12 Sep 1964 DESOTO patrols resumed 

The destroyers USS MORTON and USS EDWARDS resumed 
the DESOTO patrols off North Vietnam. 

18 Sep 1964 3rd Tonkin Gulf incident 

On the night of the 18th, the third incident in the DESOTO 
patrols occurred. The two destroyers fired on radar identified at- 
tackers and apparently scored a number of hits. No return fire 
was received from the "attackers." Later on the 18th the Presi- 
dent suspended the DESOTO patrols which were not to be re- 
sumed until February 1965. 

30 Sep 1964 CJCS memo to SecDef, "Cross-Border Operations" 

The CJCS endorsed the proposals of the mission representatives 
and requested immediate authority to implement air operations 
in the Laotian panhandle with RLAF T-28s and U.S. aircraft for 
suppressive fire and attacking heavily defended targets. Authority 
for GVN ground intelligence acquisition patrols in the Laotian 
corridor was also sought. 

1 Oct 1964 SNIE 53-2-64 

The deterioration of GVN morale and effectiveness continued 
unabated and this intelligence estimate did not think that the 
hoped for civilian government would be able to reverse it. The VC 
were not, however, expected to make an overt military effort to 
capture the government. 

4 Oct 1964 Covert GVN coastal operations against DRV again authorized 

The President authorized reactivation of the covert coastal strikes 
by the GVN against the DRV, under very tight controls with 
each action to be cleared in advance by OSD, State and the White 

6 Oct 1964 Joint State/Defense message 313 to Vientiane 

The Embassy is authorized to urge the Laotian Government to 
begin T-28 strikes as soon as possible against a 22-target list 
which excluded the Mu Gia pass. Some of the targets were de- 
signed for U.S. YANKEE TEAM strikes. 

9 Oct 1964 SNIE 10-3-64 

In the evaluation of the likely North Vietnamese reactions to 
the actions approved in the September 7 meeting, CIA concluded 
that these would probably be limited to defensive and propaganda 
measures with possibly some scaling down of operations in the 
South. China was not expected to enter the war as a result of 
even a systematic U.S. air campaign against the North. 

Embassy Saigon message 1068, Taylor to Rusk 
Taylor reported that the ARVN would be unable to conduct 
ground operations in the Laotian corridor in the foreseeable fu- 
ture and therefore U.S. air operations are urged. At a minimum, 

134 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

combat air patrols supporting RLAF strike missions were re- 
> quested. 

13 Oct 1964 Embassy Vientiane message 609, Unger to Rusk and McNamara 

U.S. air strikes against four defended targets are requested to 
accompany RLAF T-28 strikes in the northern panhandle. 

Washington approves only combat air patrols 

Washington, responding to Unger's request, authorized only U.S. 
combat air patrols in support of the RLAF operations, not the 
U.S. strikes. U.S. air strikes against communist LOCs in the pan- 
handle are not authorized until much later. 

14 Oct 1964 RLAF makes initial U.S. supported attacks 

The RLAF, with U.S. aircraft in combat air patrol support, make 
the first strikes against the communist LOCs in the panhandle. 

16 Oct 64 Embassy Saigon Message, J PS 303, Taylor to the President 

Ambassador Taylor reports greatly increased infiltration from the 
North, including North Vietnamese regulars, and a steadily wors- 
ening situation in the South. 

21 Oct 64 JCSM 893-64 

The JCS urge Secretary McNamara to back military measures to 
seize control of the border areas of South Vietnam and to cut off 
the supply and direction of the Viet Cong by direct measures 
against North Vietnam. 

27 Oct 64 JCSM 902-64 

On the basis of the new intelligence on infiltration levels, the JCS 
again recommend direct military pressures against the North. 

1 Nov 64 Viet Cong Attack Bien Hoa Air base 

In a daring strike, the Viet Cong staged a mortar attack on the 
large U.S. airbase at Bien Hoa, killing four Americans, destroying 
five B-57s, and damaging eight others. 

White House Decides Not to Retaliate 

Concerned about possible further North Vietnamese escalation 
and the uncertainty of the Red Chinese response, the White 
House decides, against the advice of Ambassador Taylor, not to 
retaliate in the tit-for-tat fashion envisaged by NSAM 314. As 
a result of the attack, however, an interagency Working Group 
of the NSC is established to study future courses of U.S. action 
under the Chairmanship of William Bundy, Assistant Secretary of 
State for Far Eastern Affairs. 

3 Nov 64 Civilian Named Premier 

Tran Van Huong is named Premier in SVN. 

First Meeting of NSC Working Group 

The NSC Working Group held its first meeting. Other members 
are Michael Forrestal and Marshall Green from State, John Mc- 
Naughton from ISA, Harold Ford for CIA, and Admiral Lloyd 
Mustin from JCS. Work continues for three weeks. 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 135 
President Re-elected 

In a landslide victory, President Johnson is re-elected with a new 
Vice President, Hubert Humphrey. 

4 Nov 64 JCSM 933-64 

The JCS place in writing their request for reprisal action against 
North Vietnam in retaliation for the Bien Hoa attack. Failure to 
act may be misinterpreted by the North Vietnamese as a lack of 
will and determination in Vietnam. 

14 Nov 64 CGCS Memorandum to SecDef, CM 258-64; and JCSM 955-64 
In separate memos to the Secretary, the JCS recommend covert 
GVN air strikes against North Vietnam and additional U.S. de- 
ployments to South East Asia to make possible implementation of 
U.S. strikes should these be approved. 

17 Nov 64 Working Group Circulates Draft ''Options" for Comment 

The Working Group circulates its draft paper on the "Options" 
available to the U.S. in South Vietnam. They are three: (A) 
continuation of present policies in the hope of an improvement in 
the South but strong U.S. resistance to negotiations; (B) strong 
U.S. pressures against the North and resistance of negotiations 
until the DRV was ready to comply with our demands; and (C) 
limited pressures against the North coupled with vigorous efforts 
to get negotiations started and recognition that we would have to 
compromise our objectives. Option B is favored by the Working 

18 Nov 64 JCSM 967-64 

The JCS renews its recommendation for strikes against the North 
tempering it slightly in terms of "a controlled program of sys- 
tematically increased military pressures." 

21 Nov 64 Revised Working Group Draft 

. Having received comments from the different agencies, the Work- 
ing Group revises its draft slightly, takes note of different view- 
points and submits its work to the NSC Principals for their con- 

23 Nov 64 Rostow Memo to SecState 

Taking a somewhat different tack, the then Director of State's 
Policy Planning Staff, W. W. Rostow, proposes military pressures 
against the North as a method of clearly signaling U.S. determina- 
tion and commitment to the North. 

24 Nov 64 NSC Principals Meeting 

No consensus is reached, but Option A is generally rejected as 
promising only eventual defeat. Option B is favored by the JCS 
and CIA, while State and OSD favor Option C. No firm conclu- 
sion is reached on the issue of sending ground troops to South 

27 Nov 64 

Taylor Meets with Principals 

Having returned for consultations. Ambassador Taylor meets with 

136 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

the NSC Principals and after giving a gloomy report of the situa- 
tion in South Vietnam, recommends that to shore up the GVN 
and improve morale we take limited actions against the North but 
resist negotiations until the GVN is improved and the DRV is 
hurting. He proposed an extended Option A with the first stages 
of Option C. This proposal was adopted by the Principals as the 
recommendation to be made to the President. 

28 Nov 64 NSC Principals Meeting 

In a follow-up meeting, the Principals decide to propose a two 
phase program to the President. The first phase would be a thirty- 
day period of slightly increased pressure such as the resumption 
of the DE SOTO patrols and U.S. armed recce on the Laotian cor- 
ridor while we tried to get reforms in South Vietnam. The second 
phase would involve direct air strikes against the North as in 
Option C. William Bundy was charged with preparing a draft 
NSAM to this effect and an infiltration study was commissioned. 

30 Nov 64 NSC Principals Meeting 

Meeting to review the draft prepared by Bundy, the Principals de- 
cided not to call it a NSAM. Its provisions are those recommended 
on 28 Nov. Phase II would be a graduated and mounting set of 
primarily air pressures against the North coupled with efforts to 
sound out the DRV on readiness to negotiate on U.S. terms. A 
recommendation on linking U.S. actions to DRV infiltration is 

White House Meeting 

While the exact decisions made at this meeting of the Principals 
with the President are not available, it is clear that he approved 
in general terms the concept outlined in the Bundy paper. He gave 
his approval for implementation of only Phase I, however. The 
President stressed the need for Taylor to get improvement from the 
GVN and the need to brief our allies on our new course of action, 
and to get more assistance from them in the conflict. 

Taylor Meets President 

The President meets privately with Taylor and gives him instruc- 
tions that he is to explain the new program to the GVN, indicate 
to its leaders that the Phase II U.S. strikes against the North are 
contingent on improvement in the South, and explain that these 
will be cooperative efforts. 

Cooper Report on Infiltration 

A thorough study on North Vietnamese infiltration as commis- 
sioned by the Principals is submitted to the NSC and later for- 
warded to Saigon. Decisions on its release are continually deferred. 

Taylor Meets with Premier Huong 

The day after his return to Saigon, Taylor meets with Premier 
Huong and with General Khanh and outlines the new U.S. policy 
and states the requirements this places on the GVN. 

Prime Minister Wilson briefed 

In Washington on a state visit, British Prime Minister Wilson is 
thoroughly briefed on the forthcoming U.S. actions. On 4 Dec, 

1 Dec 64 

3 Dec 64 

4 Dec 64 

7 Dec 64 

7-9 Dec 64 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 137 

William Bundy had gone to New Zealand and Australia to present 
the new policy and seek support. Other envoys were meeting with 
the remaining Asian allies. 

9 Dec 64 Second Taylor-Huong-Khanh Meeting 

At a second meeting with Huong and Khanh, Taylor presents a 
detailed set of actions he desires the GVN to take to improve the 
situation and receives agreement from the two leaders. 

10 Dec 64 Souvanna Phouma Approves U.S. Laos Strikes 

The U.S. proposal for armed air recce over the Laotian corridor is 
presented to Souvanna Phouma who gives his assent. 

11 Dec 64 GVN Announces Greater Efforts 

Complying with Taylor s request, the GVN announces stepped-up 
efforts to improve the campaign against the VC and to reform the 

12 Dec 64 SecDef Approves JCS Proposal for Naval Actions 

The Secretary approves a JCS proposal for shore bombardment, 
naval patrols and offshore aerial recce for the first thirty days. A 
decision on the Phase II was deferred. 

NSC Principals Approve Armed recce in Laos 
As planned, the NSC approved armed air recce over the Laotian 
corridor with the exact number and frequency of the patrols to be 
controlled by SecDef. 

14 Dec 64 BARREL ROLL Begins 

The first sorties of U.S. aircraft in the "armed recce" of the Laotian 
corridor, known as BARREL ROLL, take place. They mark the 
beginning of the thirty-day Phase I of the limited pressures. 

18 Dec 64 Level of Laotian Missions Set 

Secretary McNamara sets two missions of four aircraft each as the 
weekly level of BARREL ROLL activity. 

19 Dec 64 NSC Principals Meeting 

The NSC Principals approve McNamara's recommendation that 
BARREL ROLL missions be held at constant levels through Phase 
I. It is revealed that adverse sea conditions have brought maritime 
operations against the DRV to a virtual halt. At McNamara's in- 
sistence it is agreed that the infiltration study will not be made 

Khanh Purges Civilian Government 

Late in the evening, the military high command, led by Khanh, 
moved to remove all power from the civilian regime of Premier 
Huong by dissolving the High National Council. Khanh assumes 

20 Dec 64 Taylor Meets With A RVN Leaders 

In a meeting with the leading South Vietnamese military officers, 
Taylor once again outlined the actions required from the GVN 
by the U.S. before Phase II could be started. 

22 Dec 64 Khanh Publicly Repudiates Taylor 

After having given initial appearances of understanding the dif- 

138 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

ficulty that the military purge placed the U.S. in, Khanh on Dec. 
22 holds a news conference and states that the military is resolved 
not to carry out the policy of any foreign power. 

24 Dec 64 Rumors of Taylor s Expulsion 

Rumors are received by the Embassy that Khanh intends to have 
Taylor declared persona non grata. Vigorous U.S. efforts to dis- 
suade him and the use of Phase II as leverage cause Khanh to 

U.S. BOQ Bombed; Embassy Saigon Message 1939; CINCPAC 
Message to ICS, 26 Dec; JCSM 1076-64 

In a terror attack this Christmas Eve, the VC bomb a U.S. BOQ 
in Saigon. Two U.S. officers are killed, 58 injured. Taylor urges 
reprisals against the North. He is supported by CINCPAC and 
the JCS. 

29 Dec 64 NSC Principals Meeting 

At the meeting of the NSC Principals, a decision against reprisals 
for the barracks bombing is taken in spite of the strong recom- 
mendations above. At the same meeting, ISA reported the readi- 
ness of the Philippines, ROK, and GRC to send military assistance 
to South Vietnam. 

31 Dec 64 Embassy Saigon Message 2010 

Taylor proposes going forward with the Phase II U.S. strikes 
against the North in spite of the political crisis in the South and 
under any conceivable U.S. relations with the GVN short of com- 
plete abandonment. 

CJCS Memo to DepSecDef, CM 347-64 

The JCS recommend the addition of several air missions to already 
approved operations, including two air strikes by unmarked VNAF 
aircraft against the North, and U.S. air escort for returning GVN 
naval craft. 

3 Jan 65 Rusk TV Interview 

Secretary Rusk appears on a Sunday TV interview program and 
defends U.S. policy, ruling out either a U.S. withdrawal or a major 
expansion of the war. The public and Congressional debate on 
the war had heated up considerably since the Army take-over in 
South Vietnam in December. The debate continues through Jan- 
uary with Senator Morse the most vocal and sharpest critic of the 

4 Jan 65 Soviets call for new Conference on Laos 

Renewing their earlier efforts, the Soviets call again for a confer- 
ence on the Laotian problem. 

5 Jan 65 NSC Principals Meet 

The Principals disapprove the JCS recommendation for VNAF 
strikes with unmarked aircraft against the North. The JCS voice 
concern at the failure to begin planning for Phase 11 of the pres- 
sures program. But no decision to go ahead is taken. 

6 Jan 65 William Bundy Memo to Rusk 

In view of the continued deterioration of the situation in the South 
and the prevailing view that the U.S. was going to seek a way out, 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 139 

Bundy recommended some limited measures, short of Phase II (i.e. 
recce, a reprisal, evacuation of U.S. dependents, etc.), to strengthen 
our hand. There were risks in this course but it would improve our 
position with respect to the other SEA nations if things got rapidly 
worse in SVN and we had to contemplate a withdrawal. 

8 Jan 65 First Korean Troops Go to South Vietnam 

The first contingent of 2,000 South Korean troops leave for South 

9 Jan 65 Generals Announce Return to Civilian Government 

Under U.S. pressure, the South Vietnamese generals announce that 
matters of state will be left in the future in the hands of a civilian 
government. The joint Huong-Khanh communique promises to 
convene a constituent assembly. 

II Jan 65 US-GVN Aid Discussions Resume 

With the return to civilian government, the U.S. resumes its dis- 
cussions with the GVN on aid and measures to improve the mili- 
tary situation. 

14 Jan 65 U.S. Laotian Operations Revealed 

A UPI story reveals the U.S. BARREL ROLL armed recce mis- 
sions in Laos and tells the story of the YANKEE TEAM armed 
escort for the RLAF. 

17 Jan 65 Buddhist Riots 

Shortly after the GVN announcement of increased draft calls, 
Buddhist protest riots break out in several cities against the al- 
legedly anti-Buddhist military leaders. Disturbances continue 
through the month. 

22 Jan 65 Soviets Affirm Support of DRV 

In letters to Hanoi and Peking, Gromyko affirms Soviet support for 
the DRV struggle against American imperialism. 

23 Jan 65 USIS Library Burned in Hue 

Rioting Buddhists burn the USIS library in Hue. 

27 Jan 65 McNaughton paper, "Observations re South Vietnam After 

Khanh's 'Re-Coup' " 

The U.S. stakes in South Vietnam were defined as holding buffer 
land for Thailand and Malaysia and maintaining our national 
honor. They required continued perseverance in a bad situation, 
taking some risks such as reprisals. It was important to remember 
that our objective was the containment of China not necessarily 
the salvation of South Vietnam. In this effort, however, we should 
soon begin reprisal strikes against the North. They would not 
help the GVN much but would have a positive overall effect on 
our policy in SEA. 

Generals Withdraw Support from Huong 

The generals under Khanh's leadership act once again to eliminate 
the civilian government. This time they succeed in their coup and 
the U.S. only protests. 

28 Jan 65 General Oanh Named Premier 

General Nguyen Xuan Oanh is named acting Premier by General 

140 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 


9 Mar 1961 NSAM 28 conveys President Kennedy's instructions that "we make 
every possible effort to launch guerrilla operations in Viet-Minh 
territory at the earliest possible time." SecDef and Director, CIA, 
asked to furnish views re actions to be taken in the near and "the 
longer" future periods. 

11 May 1961 President Kennedy approves program for covert actions proposed 
by Vietnam Task Force. Program includes: (1) dispatch of agents 
into NVN, (2) aerial resupply of agents in NVN through use of 
civilian mercenary air crews, (3) infiltration of special GVN 
forces into SE Laos to locate and attack Communist bases and 
LOC's, (4) formulation of "networks of resistance, covert bases 
and teams of sabotage and light harrassment "inside NVN, and 
(5) conduct of overflights of NVN for purpose of dropping leaflets. 
(NSAM 52) 

11 Oct 1961 State Department proposes concept for U.S. intervention in Viet- 
nam/Laos situation. Concept would require deployment of SEATO 
ground force of 1 1 ,000 men along Laos and portion of Cambodian 
borders, along with options for "hot pursuit" of VC across borders. 
■Proposal sought to achieve political objective of responding to an 
appeal by Diem to help protect his borders from infiltrated guer- 
rilla forces "inspired, directed and supported from NVN." Sup- 
plemental Note, appended to the proposal by OSD/ISA recom- 
mended (among other measures) that the U.S. encourage GVN 
guerrilla action against communist aerial resupply missions in the 
Tchepone area of Laos, through the commitment of U.S. advisers 
if necessary. Operation was to include employment of indigenous 
forces equipped with .50 calibre AA weapons. 

13 Oct 1961 President Kennedy directs (among other measures) that we "ini- 
tiate guerrilla ground action, including the use of U.S. advisers if 
necessary" against Communist aerial resupply missions in the vi- 
cinity of Tchepone. He also directed the Department of State to 
prepare to publish its White Paper on DRV responsibility for ag- 
gression in SVN. (NSAM 104) 

8 Dec 1961 Department of State publishes 1st White Paper on DRV aggres- 
sion in violation of the 1954 Geneva Accords. 

Mid-Decem- GVN augments its CIA-sponsored programs of infiltration and 
ber 1961 covert operations through recruiting candidates "to form an under- 
water demolition team (to operate) ... in strategic maritime 
areas of NVN." ("Status Report on Covert Actions in Vietnam," 
21 Dec. '61) 

2 J un 1962 I.C.C. report states that DRV has violated 1954 Geneva Agree- 
ment through its encouragement and support of SVN insurgency. 
GVN also criticized, on two counts. 


Signing of Geneva Accords on Laos reduces considerably the scope 
of covert operations against Communist forces outside SVN. 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 141 

25 J un 1963 President Kennedy rejects portion of State Department's plan of 

actions to deal with a deteriorating situation in Laos, which called 
for actions to be taken against NVN. While approving two other 
phases of the proposal (one only for planning purposes), he 
urges that this final phase be reviewed to determine whether "addi- 
tional U.S. actions should be taken in Laos before any action be 
directed against NVN." (NSAM 249) 

9 Sep 1963 JCS approve CINCPAC OPLAN 34-63, which called for MACV 
and CAS, Saigon to provide advice and assistance to the GVN in 
certain operations against NVN. Phase I of the plan was to con- 
sist of "Psychological Operations"; Phase II of "Hit and Run At- 
tacks." The latter included "amphibious raids using Vietnamese 
UDT/SEAL Team, Rangers, Airborne, and Marine units against 
selected targets south of the Tonkin Delta having little or no se- 
curity." Apparendy, the plan was not forwarded to the White 
House by SecDef . 

30 Oct 1963 Ambassador Lodge recommends a political-military initiative di- 
rected at NVN. In the context of a scheme to "neutralize NVN," 
he urges "an essentially diplomatic carrot and stick approach, 
backed by covert military means." 

Mid-Novem- Cross-border operations into Laos reported to be resumed by 
ber 1963 CAS, Saigon. On 19 November, CAS reported "first results just 
coming in." (CAS Saigon 2540) 

26 Nov 1963 In a review of discussions of Vietnam policy held at Honolulu, 

20 November 63, newly installed President Johnson directs (among 
other measures) that "planning should include different levels of 
possible increased activity, and in each instance there should be 
estimates of such factors as: 

a. Resulting damage to NVN; 

b. The plausibility of denial; 

c. Possible NVN retaliation; 

d. Other international reaction." 

The directive also called for a plan, to be submitted for approval, 
for military operations "up to a line up to 50 km. inside Laos, 
together with political plans for minimizing the international haz- 
ards of such an enterprise." (NSAM 273) 

15 Dec 1963 In response to JCS request of 26 Nov 63, MACV and CAS, Sai- 
gon forward a joint plan of combined GVN/USG operations 
against NVN. Designated OPLAN 34A, the proposal providing 
"a spectrum of capabilities for RVNAF to execute against NVN" 
that would "convince the DRV leadership that they should cease 
to support insurgent activities in the RVN and Laos. It contained 
72 actions, many of which were covert and only 16 of which were 
considered "punitive or attritional." In forwarding letter, CINC- 
PAC urges that Category IV actions, largely air attacks, "appear 
to have the highest probability of success." (CINCPAC letter 
to JCS, 19 Dec 63) 

Interagency study group chaired by Robert Johnson, Department 
of State Policy Planning Council, begins examination of various 
ways of applying pressure directly to NVN, as director and sup- 
plier of SVN insurgency. 

Feb 1964 

142 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/VoL III jf^f^ 

20 Feb 1964 Ambassador Lodge recalls his recommendation of 30^_OLctobet 63, 
urging President Johnson to apply "various pressures" to NVN 
and eliminatej[he_sanetuary for guerrilla support. (Saigon Em- 
bassy Msg./State 1954) 

21-25 Feb Both President Johnson and Secretary Rusk (dates respectively) 
1964 make pubUc statements that "those engaged in external direction 

and supply [of the SVN insurgency] would do v^ell to be reminded 
and to remember that this type of aggression is a deeply danger- 
ous^-game." {Dept. of State Bulletin, March 16, 1964) 

15 Mar 1964 Ambassador Lodge urges President Johnson to begin reconnais- 
sance flights over NVN and covert actions against NVN before 
considering any "overt U.S. measures." 

17 Mar 1964 President Johnson approves Secretary McNamara's report result- 
ing from an inspection trip to South Vietnam and culminating an 
extensive policy review by the Administration. Report recom- 
mended against overt military measures directly against SVN 
for the present and stressed numerous internal actions in support 
of the GVN's progam to combat the VC insurgency. Report did 
urge immediate preparation of a capability to "mount new and 
significant pressures against NVN," to include a 72-hour capability 
for a full range of SVN "border control" operations and "retalia- 
tory actions against NVN," and a capability to initiate "graduated 
overt military pressure" wit hin 30 day s of notification. It further 
.urged authority for "continued high-level U.S. overflights of SVN's 
borders," and "hot pursuit" and GVN ground operations into 
Laos for purposes of border control. (NSAM 288) 

17 Mar 1964 President Johnson requests that "political and diplomatic prepara- 
tions be made to lay a basis for "high- or lowrlevel reconnaissance 
over NVN" if it seems necessary or desirable after a few weeks." 
He asks Secretaries Rusk and McNamara to further study and 
make recommendations in concert on "questions of further U.S. 
participation and of air and ground strikes against Laos," and 
reserves judgement on overt U.S. measures against NVN. The 
President authorizes Ambassador Lodge "to prepare contingency 
recommendation for specific tit-for-tat actions in the event attacks 
on Americans are renewed." (White House Msg. to Amb. Lodge/ 
State 1454) 

19 Apr 1964 Secretary Rusk decided to go ahead with plan suggested by 
Ambassador Lodge to have new Canadian I.C.C. Commissioner 
selected and briefed, in part, for purpose of conveying to Hanoi 
the seriousness of U.S. purpose and the limited nature of U.S. 
objectives in Vietnam. Decision was made in the context of a 
Saigon conference to discuss the categories of action against NVN 
developed by the interagency study group. It reflected the Am- 
bassador's feeling that a dipl^rnatic_at tempt to persuade NVN to 
call off the insurgency (using the carrot and stick approach) 
should precede any program involving "massive pjjblicity" or 
"massive destructive actions." 

30 Apr 1964 In Ottawa, Secretary Rusk obtains Canadian agreement to co- 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 143 

operate in the proposed diplomatic initiative toward Hanoi. J. 
Blair Seaborn named as I.C.C. Commissioner and given prelimi- 
nary instructions. 

14 May 1964 In conversation with Secretary McNamara, General Khanh ex- 

presses his concern that the GVN will not be ready for greater 
actions against the North for some time. However, he states his 
belief that they will be inevitable at some later date. (Saigon 
Embassy Msg. to Secretaries Rusk and McNamara /State 2203) 

15 May 1964 In answer to President Johnson's query, Ambassador Lodge con- 

firms his backing of the idea to initiate promptly the Hanoi mis- 
sion of the Canadian I.C.C. Commissioner. Further, he urges 
that "if . . . there has been a terroristic act of the proper magni- 
tude . . . a specific target in NVN 'should bg _struck!_a& a 
prelude to his arrival/' 

23Mxiy 1964 Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy (designated as co- 
ordinating executive by President Johnson in NSAM 288) pre- 
sents members of SEA ExCom. with proposed 30-day scenario 
for exerting graduated military and political pressure on NVN. 
Involving a planned sequence of diplomatic moves and public 
statements from both Saigon and Washington, the scenario cul- 
minated with GVN, and eventually US, air strikes against NVN 
war-supporting targets and a call for international conference on 
Vietnam. Included in the sequence would be a J oint Cong ressional 
Resolution affirming the President's freedom of action to use 
force if necessary in protecting the security of SEA. (Ambassador 
Lodge had previously expressed strong dissent at the overt nature 
of the actions included in the scenario.) (Draft Memo for the 

25 May 1964 ExCom. decided not to recommend the 30-day scenario — ap- 

parently because of the estimated high probability of escalation 
and the countervailing diplomatic image of larger objectives that 
such escalation would create. Instead, it recommends a Presidential 
decision to use force if "appropriate diplomatic and political 
warning and preparation" and "other efforts" fail to "produce a 
sufficient improvement of non-Communist prospects in South 
Vietnam and in Laos." Recommendation was based on the 
premises that included: "that a decision to use force if necessary, 
backed by resolute and extensive deployment, and conveyed by 
every possible means to our adversaries, gives the best present 
chance of avoiding the actual use of such force." The ExCom. 
further recommends that all parts of Southeast Asia be treated 
as part of a single problem and that a sequence of diplomatic and 
public actions similar to those in the scenario and including a 
well-publicized strategy conference in Honolulu, be set in motion. 
(Draft Memo to the President) 

26 May 1964 Ambassador Lodge cables Secretary Rusk that he is "coming to 

the conclusion that we cannot reasonably . . . expect a much 
better performance out of the GVN than what we are now get- 
ting unless something [like US retaliation for terrorist acts] is 
brought into the picture." (Sfate 23187 ^ 

144 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

31 May 1964 In Saigon, General Khanh tells Secretary Rusk (on way to 
j Honolulu Conference) that SVN can not win against the VC 
j without military actions oij tside i ts__bord£rs. He urges immediate 
actions by ARVN, with air support (US or GVN not clear), to 
eliminate Communist forces in E. Laos and end the VC threat to 
cut SVN in half across the Highlands. Secretary Rusk tells Khanh 
"We are purposely giving the Sino-Soviet bloc many indicators 
that we are about to react to recent aggressions." But that he 
could say nothing about specific American intentions in the im- 
mediate future "because he simply did not know. The Honolulu 
meeting would produce some firm recommendations to the Presi- 
dent and some plans, but ultimately only the President could de- 
cide. His decision would be influenced by consideration of all im- 
plications of escalation . . (CINCPAC Msg. 1 June 64/SECTO 

2 Jun 1964 JCS question military adequacy "for the present situation" of the 
currently dominant objective to "cause the North Vietnamese to 
decide to terminate their subversive support of activity in Laos 
and SVN," but agree to it as "an initial measure." They state their 
opinion that termination of the DRV's support of the insurgencies 
can be assured only by "military actions to accomplish destruction 
of the NVN will and capabilities as necessary to comp^el the DRV 
to cease providing support." In case national authority opts for 
the lesser (and former) objective, the JCS propose two target 
complexes significantly associated with support of the effort in 
Laos and SVN, the destruction of which can be achieved quickly 
and precisely and "with minimum impact on civilian populations." 

At Honolulu, Secretaries McNamara and Rusk and CIA Director 
McCone agree "emphatically," in response to Ambassador 
Lodge's questioning, that a Congressional Resolution was a neces- 
sary element in any preparations for wider US participation against 
. . . NVN. The possibilities of (1) having to deploy as many as 
seven divi sion s, (2) having to call up reserves, and (3) having to 
protect SVN from possible NVN and CHICOM reprisals were 
cited as reasons why special confirmation of the Presidential au- 
thority was needed. Its deterrence effects were also cited. As a re- 
sult of discussions of current military plans and posture for SEA, 
the principals acknowledge numerous factors that make prompt 
military action by the US undesirable. These included: (1) force 
build-up necessary to support current plans, (2) the possible inter- 
ference of such build-ups with our intended signal of limited ob- 
jective, (3) the need for more precise targeting studies, (4) the 
need for a larger ARVN reserve, (5) the need for a stronger 
GVN base, (6) the need to prepare allied governments and US 
public opinion, and (7) the impact of the rainy season, inhibiting 
offensive operations in the Laos panhandle. (Memo of Record, 3 
June 64) 

CJCS Taylor sends Secretary McNamara a view contrary to that 
in 2 June 64 JCS memo, urging three, rather than two, general 
alternative patterns for putting military pressure on NVN. To 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 145 

alternatives roughly corresponding to the two posed by the JCS 
he adds a third "demonstrative" alternative "to show US readi- 
ness and intent to pass to [the harsher] alternatives." Though 
stating his preference for the middle alternative, he states feeling 
("that it is highly probable that political consideration will incline 
'our responsible civilian official to opt for [the mildest] alternative," 
and that, therefore, the JCS should develop a plan for implement- 
ing it. 

9 Jun 1964 In answer to the President's question whether control of SVN and 
Laos by NVN would necessarily mean the loss of SEA, CIA re- 
plies negatively. It asserts, however, that such an eventuality 
"would be profoundly damaging to the US position in the Far 
East . . . would be damaging to US prestige, and would seriously 
debase the credibility of US will and capability to contain the 
spread of Communism elsewhere in the areas [sic] [by later elab- 
oration, the SEA mainland]." The US deterrence posture vis-a-vis 
overt military aggression by Peking and Hanoi was viewed as not 
suffering appreciably from such a loss," as long as the US can 
effectively operate from [its island] bases." The Department of 
State view agreed and, if different, was slightly more alarmist. 
(IVIemo for the Director, CIA) 

11 Jun 1964 Laotian Premier Souvanna Phouma reaffirms original agreement 
(8 June) to US armed escort of reconnaissance flights over "South 
Laos" and the Plaine des Jarres, with authority to attack ground 
units first firing on them. Situation in Laos has become fairly 
stabilized and non-threatening, with the US entered on a "nego- 
tiating track" hopefully leading to "the convening of the Polish 
consultations in the next 3-4 weeks and their continuation over 
a period of time." This State Department assessment opines, "We 
do not expect at the present time to move in the near future to 
military action against NVN." (Memo on the SEA Situation, 12 
June 64) 

23 Jun 1964 Presidential news conference, cited in State Dept. messages to 
embassies as "significant and precise statement of the US posi- 
tion in SEA." Previously, military posturing actions including: 

(1) deployment of a B-57 wing from Japan to the Philippines, 

(2) reinforcement of military contingency stockpiles in Thailand, 
and (3) development of a network of new air bases and opera- 
tional facilities in SVN and Thailand had been given extensive 
press coverage. 

Jul 1964 President Johnson directs all government agencies to "seek to 
identify actions which can be taken to improve the situation in 
Vietnam: actions which would produce maximum effect with 
minimum escalation." [words missing] 

2-5 Aug Tonkin Gulf incident and US reprisals against NVN targets. 

6 Aug 1964 Congress passes a joint resolution stating that international peace 
and security in SEA were "vital to" the national interest. The 
resolution authorized President Johnson "to take all necessary 

146 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

steps, including the use of armed force," to assist any SEATO 
"member of protocol state" requesting US help in defending its 
freedom. (Dept. of State Bulletin August 24, 1964) 

Aug 1964 /in response to Secretary McNamara's request for NVN targets, 
^ ( the ICS submits initial "94-target list." 

14 Aug 1964 Department of State cables Saigon and Vietnam embassies and 
CINCPAC requesting comment on key points in a "tentative 
high level paper on next courses of action in SEA." In summary 
of points, is included statement, "the next ten days to two weeks 
should be short holding phase in which we would avoid action 
that would in any way take onus off Communist side for escala- 
tion." Cable then specifies that DESOTO patrol will not be re- 
sumed and new 34A operations will not be undertaken. After 
sketching "essential elements of the political and military situa- 
tions in both SVN and Laos, as well as respective strategies re 
negotiations, the cable then lists proposed "limited pressures" to 
be exerted on the DRV in Laos and in NVN during the period, 
"late August tentatively through December." (State Msgs, to 
Saigon 439; Vietnam 157) 

Aug 1964 At a meeting at Udorn, Ambassadors Unger and Taylor agree 
that MACV should work out a division of targets in the Laotian 
panhandle area between RLAF and RVNAF aircraft and US sup- 
pressive strikes. In principle, the concept of cross-border opera- 
tions into Laos by GVN ground forces, is agreed to within specific 
limits, for planning purposes. 

24 Aug 1964 After re-examining initial targeting proposals, the ICS recom- 
j mend a course of action for SEA. They call for a "sharp sudden 
blow" as the most effective way "to bring home . . . the intent 
of the US "to bring about cessation of the DRV's support of 
insurgency in the South. They present a revised 94-target list" 
as the basis for their recommended course of actions. (JCSM 
I 729/64) 

Late August Joint State and ISA effort to develop new scenario for graduated 
through Octo- pressures against NVN apparently in progress 
ber 1964 

10 Sep 1964 President authorizes resumption of DESOTO patrols and 
MAROPS portion of the 34A operations. 

18 Sep 1964 President suspends DESOTO patrol operation, in the wake of a 
third incident (18 Sep 64) involving NVN patrol boat threats to 
US destroyer in the Tonkin Gulf. 

3 Oct 1964 President Johnson authorizes resumption of the MAROPS pro- 
gram, involving (during October) two probes, an attempted junk 
capture and ship-to-shore bombardment of radar sites. 

16 Oct 1964 Ambassador Taylor cables President Johnson regarding increased 
infiltration and worsening situation in SVN. 

27 Oct 1964 The JCS express judgement that "strong military actions are re- 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 147 

quired now in order to prevent the collapse of the US position 
in Southeast Asia," "making specific reference to SNIE 53-2-64 
and the Taylor cable. They recommend a program of actions 
designed to support a strategy of: 

a. Depriving the Viet Cong (VC) of out of country as- 
sistance by applying continuously increasing military pres- 
sures on the Democratic Republic of North Vietnam (DRV) 
to the extent necessary to cause the DRV to cease support 
and direction of the insurgency. 

b. Depriving the VC of assistance within SVN by expand- 
ing the counterinsurgency effort — military, economic and po- 
litical—within SVN. 

c. Continuing to seek a viable effective government in 
SVN based on the broadest possible consensus. 

d. Maintaining a military readiness posture in Southeast 
Asia that: 

(1) Demonstrates the US will and capability to escalate 
the action if required. 

(2) Deters a major communist aggression in the area." 

Further, they request authority "to implement now" six actions 
within SVN and eight actions outside SVN, including GVN and 
US FARMGATE, also attacks on the infiltration LOC's in South- 
ern NVN. (JCSM-902-64) 

1 Nov 1964 Viet Cong forces attack the US air base and billeting at Bien 

3 Nov 1964 Assistant Secretary of State Bundy convenes newly established 

NSC Working Group on SVN/SEA, with membership from State, 
OSD/ISA, the JCS, and CIA. 

Group work allocated into the following categories: 
I. The Situation in SVN; II. US Objectives and Stakes in SVN 
and SEA: III. The Broad Options; IV. Alternative Forms of 
Negotiations; V. Analysis of Option A; VI. Analysis of Option B; 
VII. Analysis of Option C; VIII. Immediate Actions in the Period 
Prior to Decision; IX. Conclusions and Recommendations. Initial 
drafts of statements covering many of these sections were under- 
way prior to establishment of the group. (Memo to Working 
Group Members.) 

4 Nov 1964 The JCS urge "prompt and strong" military actions in reprisal for 

the Bien Hoa attacks. The actions include B-52 night strikes on 
Phue Yen airfield, attacks on Hanoi and Haiphong POL storage 
and other high-value targets. (JCS 2339/153) 

14 Nov 1964 In response to Secretary McNamara's request to examine possible 
DRV/CHICOM military reactions to US air strikes on NVN, the 
JCS also reiterate their recommendation for "specific actions" 
made on 4 Nov 64. They link prepared actions to the "underlying 

148 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

objective ... of causing the DRV to cease supporting and di- 
recting the insurgencies in RVN and Laos" and call them "equally 
applicable and appropriate for other serious provocations in 
SEA." (JCSM-955-64) 

17 Nov 1964 NSC Working Group circulates draft working papers for each 
of the topics included in its study to the principal participating 
agencies for comment. The objective of the group is to prepare 
recommended courses of action prior to the arrival of Ambassa- 
dor Lodge for a high-level SEA policy meeting. Papers present 
three alternative courses of action: A — Continued emphasis on 
counterinsurgency in SVN with provision for reprisals for provo- 
cations like Bien Hoa along with somewhat intensified 34A opera- 
tions and air operations against the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos; 
B — Graduated but steadily escalating air operations against LOCs 
and high-value targets in NVN; C — Graduated but variably 
paced military actions against infiltration routes in Laos and 
NVN. C would differ from the others also by including an overt 
willingness to negotiate a setdement based on the Geneva Ac- 

23 Nov 1964 The JCS criticize the NSC Working Group's alternatives and some 

of its supporting rationale. Arguing that the loss of SEA "would 
lead to grave political and military consequences in the entire 
Western Pacific," the JCS urge stronger military options than 
those of the Working Group. They state that only two of five 
they describe give promise of achieving the stated US objectives: 
that recommended in JCSM-967-64, dated 18 Nov 64 and the 
stronger (and preferred) option recommended in JCSM-955-64, 
dated 14 Nov 64. (JCSM-98Z-64) 

24 Nov 1964 At a meeting of the NSC Principals for SEA, consensus is 

reached that: 

1. If the DRV did withdraw its effort, the security situation 
in the South could be handled in time if the government could 
maintain itself. However, the struggle would still be long. 

2. The South Vietnam situation would deteriorate further under 
Option A even with reprisals, but that there was a significant 
chance that the actions proposed under Option B or Option C 
would improve GVN performance and make possible an im- 
provement in the security situation. 

3. Any negotiating outcome under Option A (with or without 
US negotiating participation) was likely to be clearly worse than 
under Option C or Option B. 

4. It was not true, as the draft paper states, that Option B, 
in the light of all factors, has the best chance of attaining our 
full objectives. 

5. The loss of South Vietnam would be somewhat more serious 
than stated in Section II of the draft paper, and it would be at 
least in the direction of the Joint Staff view as stated in the 
footnote to page 7 of the draft. 

6. The requirement of Option C — maintaining military pressure 
and a credible threat of major action while at the same time being 
prepared to negotiote — could in practice be carried out. 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. m9h5 149 

7. Under Option C, our early military actions against the DRV 
should be determined, but low in scale, but that some higher- 
damage actions should be included under the reprisal heading. 
Other points achieve less than consensus, and various aspects of 
executing Options B and C are discussed, including the merits of 
committing ground forces in various roles. (Memo of ExCom 

27 Nov 1964 At a meeting of the NSC Principals with Ambassador Taylor, 
consensus is expressed that it would be difficult for the US to 
continue its policies in SEA "if the GVN collapsed or told us to 
get out." Westmoreland's advice to delay wider actions for about 
six months is rejected on grounds that the situation may not hold 
together that long. Agreement is reached that although stronger 
action by the US would "have a favorable effect on GVN . . . 
performance and morale," it may not really improve the situation, 
and "the strengthening effect of Option C could at least buy time, 
possibly measured in years." The Principals recommend "that over 
the next two months we adopt a program of Option A plus the 
first stages of Option C," and that "we needed a more precise 
and fully spelled out scenario . . . with or without a decision to 
move into the full Option C program at some time thereafter." 
(Memo of Meeting) 

1 Dec 1964 President Johnson approves Principals' recommendation to initiate 
immediate actions like those proposed under Option A. Principals 
conceive first phase of pressures against NVN as continuing 30 
days or more, depending on GVN progress along specified lines. 
Should such progress be made, they see US entering a second- 
phase program consisting "principally of progressively more seri- 
ous air strikes," as in Option C, "possibly running from two to six 
months." The President also grants US Mission in Saigon au- 
thority to work out reprisal plans with the GVN. Ambassador 
Taylor is instructed to tell the GVN that SVN's national unity and 
firm leadership are necessary prerequisites to US consideration of 
second phase operations. (Attach to Memo for SEA Principals, 
29 Nov 64) 

14 Dec 1964 JCS order initiation of armed reconnaissance operations in Laos 
and doubling of MAROPS incident rate — also initiate deployment 
of WESTPAC force augmentations necessary for reprisal actions 
(All Phase I operations). 

I. FEB-JUNE 1964 


On 1 February 1964, the United States embarked on a new course of action 
in pursuance of its long-standing policy of attempting to bolster the security 
of Southeast Asia. On that date, under direction of the American military estab- 
lishment, an elaborate program of covert military operations against the state 
of North Vietnam was set in motion. There were precedents: a variety of covert 
activities had been sponsored by the American CIA since 1961. Intelligence 


^avm Edition/The Pentagon Papers/ Vol. Ill 

agents, nmupAllied by air, had been dispatched into North Vietnam; resistance 
and sabot We leams had been recruited inside the country; and propaganda leaf- 
lets had been dispensed from "civilian mercenary" aircraft. But the program that 
began in February 1964 was different, and its impact on future U.S. policy in 
Southeast Asia was far-reaching. 

1. Covert Action Program: Scope and Character 

The covert action program beginning in February 1964 was different, first of 
all, because it was a program. Designed to extend over a period of 12 months, 
it was divided into three phases distinguished by the character and intensity of 
their respective operations. The first phase (February through May) called for 
intelligence collection through U-2 and communications intelligence missions 
and psychological operations involving leaflet drops, propaganda kit deliveries, 
and radio broadcasts. It also provided for about "20 destructive undertakings, 
all within_^__;_^_fiariy-^«xispeetivi^ capabilities . . . [and] designed to re- 

sult in substantial destruction, economic loss and harassment." The second and 
third phases involved the same categories of action, but of increased tempo and 
magnitude, and with the destructive operations extending to "targets identified 
with North Vietnam's economic and industrial well-being." Once started, the 
program was intended to inflict on North Vietnam increasing levels of punishment 
for its aggressive policies. 

The 1964 program was different also because it was placed under control 
of an operational U.S^mjUtary^con}^ Though the program was designed 
to be carried out by QVN^^Jt hird cou ntry personnel, plans were developed by 
COMUSMACV and the 6VN jointly and given interagency clearance in Wash- 
ington through a special office under the JCS. CINCPAC and the appropriate 
CIA station ^unr^mshed the necessary training^and^equipment support and COM- 
liKMA^^ exercised o]peratTohal control. Since subsequent phases of the covert 
program were to be based on a continuous evaluation of actions already taken, 
operation reports were submitted periodically through JCS staff channels for re- 
view by various Washington agencies. 

Normally such routine staffing arrangements tend to encourage expectations 
of continued program actions. Moreover, they foreshadow bureaucratic pressures 
for taking stronger measures should previous ones fail to produce desired re- 
sults. In the case of the covert operations program, these tendencies were rein- 
forced through the evocation of a GVN policy commitment and the involve- 
ment of GVI;I^ofl&ci4§-iJliKiGlElemejilation. 

2. Origins and Development: Presidential Support and Approval 

I The covert program was spawne^in May of 1963, when the JCS directed 
1 CINCPAC to prepare a plan fo^CVN)' hit and run" operations against NVN. 
I These operations were to be "non-affrlHutable" and carried out "with U.S. mili- 
' tary ^ jnater iel, training and ad visojy .^assistance." Approved byTRe^TCS^ on_^ 
; September as CINCPAC OPLAN 34-63, the plan was discussed during the 
{ Vietnam policy conference at Honolulu, 20 November 1963. Here a decision 
I was made to develop a combined COMUSMACV^AS^cgaggi^^ for a 1 
month program of covert operationsTTnstnJcfionS^ the JCS on^ 

November specifically requested provision for: "(1,) harassment; (2) diversion; 
(3) political pressure; (4) capture of prisoners; (5) physical destruction; (6) 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 151 

acquisition of intelligence; (7) generation of intelligence; and (8) diversion of 
DRV resources." Further, that the plan provide for "selected actions of gradu- , 
ated scope and intensity to include^ commando type coastal raids." To this guid- 
ance was added that given by Pre'sTdent JohrTson foTlTe^ffect^that "planning 
should include . . . estimates of such factors as: (1) resulting damage to NVN; 
(2) the p lausib ility of denial; (3) possible NVN retaliation; and (4) other inter- 
national reactioln." 1 he MACV-CAS plan, designated OPLAN 34A, and providing 
for "a spectrum of capabilities for RVNAF to execute against NVN," was for- 
warded by CINCPAC on 19 Decem"&er l:9'e^N ^ 

The idea of putting direct pressure on North Vietnam met prompt receptivity 
on the part of President Johnson. According to then Assistant Secretary of State, 
Roger Hilsman, it was just a few days before the military-CIA submission that 
State Department Counselor, Walt Rostow passed to the President "a well- 
reasoned case for a gradual escalation." Rostow was well-known as an advocate 
of taking direct measures against the external^ sources of gugrriUa^-suj^pprt, having 
hammered away at this theme since he first presente3Tt at Fort Bragg in A2ril^ 
1961_^ In any event, on 21 December, President Johnson directed that an inter- ■ 
departmental committee study the MACV-CAS plan to select from it those least 
risk." This committee, under the chairmanship of Major General Krulak, USMC, 
completed its study on 2 January 1964 and submitted its report for review by 
the principal officials of its various member agencies. The report recommended 
the 3-phase approach and the variety of Phase I operations described earlier. 
President Johnson approved the committee's recommendations on 16 January 
and directed that the initial 4-month phase of the program be implemented be- 
ginning ^LJFebruary. 

3. Concept and Rationale: Convince DRV to Desist by Raising the Cost 

In view of program performance and later decisions, the conceptualization 
underlying the program of covert operations against North Vietnam is par- 
ticularly significant. JCS objectives for the initial CINCPAC formulation were 
to increase the cost to the DRV of its role in the South Vietnamese insurgency. 
The catalogue of operations submitted from Saigon was intended to "convince the 
DRV leadership that they should cease to support insurgent activities in the 
RVN and Laos." Although, in its forwarding letter, CINCPAC expressed doubt 
that all but a few of the 2062 separate operations detailed by MACV-CAS could 
have that kind of effect. In his view, only air attacks and a few other "punitive 
or attritional" operations had any probability of success in achieving the stated 

Rationale accompanying the interdepartmental committee's program recom- 
mendations, apparently accepted by higher authority, reflected both the coercive 
objectives and the reservations associated with the earlier documents. Through 
its recommended program of "progressively escalating pressure," the committee 
aimed "to inflict increasing punishment upon North Vietnam and to create pres- 
sures, which may convince the North Vietnamese leadership, in its own self- 
interest, to desist from its aggressive policies." However, it expressed the caution 
that "it is far from clear whether even the successful conduct of the opera- 
tions . . . would induce Hanoi's leaders to cease and desist." Still, after enu- 
merating a number of specific risks involved, it expressed the opinion that they 
were "outweighed by the potential benefits of the actions [it] recommended." In 
selecting these actions, the committee stated the assumption that the DRV's cur- 

152 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

rent strategy was to support the Viet Cong "at little cost to itself and at little 
risk to its industrial complex, while counting for victory upon U.S. and South 
Vietnamese war weariness . . ." It calculated: 

The importance attached by Hanoi's leaders to the development of North 
Vietnam's economy suggests that progressive damage of its industrial proj- 
ects, attrition of its resources and dislocation of its economy /might induce 
a decision to call of f its ph ysical support of theJ/jjljCon^. 1"his reaction 
might be mtensified by the traditional Vietnamese fear of Chinese domi- 
/ nation, where expanded operations by our side could arouse concern in 
^Hanoi over the likelihood of direct Chinese Communist intervention in North 
Vietnamese affairs. 

Interagency commentary on the proposed operations provides additional in- 
sight into the rationale and expectancies associated with the initial 4-month 
program. After reviewing 13 of these operations, the Board of National Esti- 
mates concluded that "even if all were successful," they would not achieve the 
aim of convincing the DRV to alter its policies. The Board thought it possible that 
North Vietnamese leaders might view these operations "as representing a signif- 
icant increase in the vigor of U.S. policy, potentially dangerous to them," but with 
a likely reaction no more significant than a DRV effort to try to arouse greater 
international pressure for a Geneva-type conference on Vietnam. In addition, 
it cautioned that at least three operations proposed for the initial period were too 
large and complex to be plausibly denied by jh^CiVN. The committee noted this 
CIA caution but suggested it might provide a psychological advantage "for South 
Vietnam to acknowledge publicly ifs re^Lponsjbility for certain of the retaliatory 
acts taken against the aggressor." Howevel", the State Department member de- 
murred, urging that only those operations that were covert and deniable by both 
the GVN and the United States be undertaken. His caution reflected recognition 
1 "of the risks and the uncertainty as to whether operations against North Vietnam 
^|Will materially contribute to our objective of ending the war." 

4. Implications: Greater Pressure on Hanoi 

Thus, by early'lF ebrua ry 1964. the United States had committed itself to a 
I policy of attempting to improve the situations in South Vietnam and Laos by 
/ subjecting North Vietnam to increasing levels of direct pressure. Despite ex- 
\ plicit assessments that the contemplated early steps could not achieve its objec- 
\ fives, it had embarked on a program whTcir"3emanded a significant commitment 
for its South Vietnamese allies and which in its expected later stages could ex- 
pose them to considerable risk. Moreover, by initiating a program recognized as 
giving little promise of achieving its stated objectives through early actions, it 
raised expectancies for continued and intensified operations in later stages. It 
can be concluded that either the Administration (1) intended to continue to 
pursue the policy of pressuring North Vietnam until these pressures showed some 
propensity for success, or (2) sought through the covert operations program 
to achieve objectives different from those anticipated during the initial planning. 


As indicated by reservations expressed by an ad hoc interdepartmental com- 
mittee on "pressures" against North Vietnam chaired by General Krulak, covert 
operations were seen as possessing several shortcomings with respect to infiu- 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-/ian.B965 153 

encing decisions in Hanoi. In appraising these operations, dJienXmn was drawn 
increasingly to the potential for undertaking punitive meas\;^s^that appeared 
likely to be more compelling. The Krulak committee assessed the likely North 
Vietnamese response as follows: 

Toughened, as they have been, by long years of hardships and struggle, 
they will not easily be persuaded by a punitive program to halt their support 
of the Viet Cong insurgency, unless the damage visited upon them is of 
g reat m agnitude^ 

Moreover, the committee rationale reflected the idea generally held that the DRV 
would be responsive to rnore damaging actions. For example, Walt Rostow 
pressed the view on Secretafy'TOsirtTiat "Ho [Chi Minh] has an industrial com- 
plex to protect: he is no longer a guerrilla fighter with nothing to lose." 

1. Conceptual Origins and Motivations 

In early February, several conceptual elements converged to focus Administra- 
tion attention on the question of whether U.S. policy should embrace readiness 
to undertake larger punitive actions against North Vietnam. One element was 
the realization that the GVN would be incapable of increasing the number or 
size of its maritime operations beyond the modest "pin pricks" included in the 
Phase I covert actions program. Should stronger pressures be called for before 
May or June, they would have to be applied through direct air strikes, prob- 
ably with USAF/FARMGATE assistance. Another element was the prospect of 
serious deterioration within Laos and South Vietnam, resulting from recent North 
Vietnamese troop influxes into Laos, fear of similar trends in South Vietnam, 
and heightened VC activity in the wake of the latest GVN coup of 30 January. 
Concern within the State Department was such that discussions were held on the 
desirability of the President's requesting a congressional resolution, drawing a 
line at the borders of South Vietnam. 

A third element was the increasing articulation of a direct relation between 
the challenge of halting North Vietnam's assistance to the Southeast Asian in- 
surgents and broader U.S. strategic interests. Stopping Hanoi from aiding the 
Viet Cong virtually became equated with protecting U.S. interests against the 
threat of insurgency throughout the world. For example, in support of their 
recommendation to "put aside many of the self-imposed restrictions which now 
Hmit our efforts" and "undertake a much higher level of activity" than the 
covert actions against external assistance to the Viet Cong, the JCS argued: 

In a broader sense, the failure of our programs in South Vietnam would 
have heavy influence on the judgment of Burma, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, 
Japan, Taiwan, the Republic of Korea, and the Republic of the Philippines 
with respect to U.S. durability, resolution, and trustworthiness. Finally, 
this being the first real test of our determination to defeat the Communist 
wars of national liberation formula, it is not unreasonable to conclude that 
there would be a corresponding unfavorable effect upon our image in 
Africa and in Latin America. 

Similarly, in Secretary Rusk's perception. 

We must demonstrate to both the Communist and the non-Communist 
worlds that the wars of national liberation formula now being pushed so 
actively by the Communists will not succeed. 


Htion/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

2. Interagency Study, February-March 1964 

The immediate effect of the heightened interest in causing Hanoi to alter its 
policies by exerting greater punitive pressures was to stimulate a variety of 
planning activities within the national security establishment. For example, on 
20 February, at a meeting with the Secretaries of State and Defense, CIA Di- 
rector McCone, CJCS Taylor and members of the Vietnam Committee, the 
President directed: 

Contingency planning for pressures against North Vietnam should be 
speeded up. Particular attention should be given to shaping such pressures 
so as to produce the maximum credible deterrent effect on Hanoi. 

Underway at the time was a detailed interagency study intended to determine 
ways of bringing measured pressures to bear against the DRV. Directed by Robert 
Johnson, of the Department of State Policy Planning Council, the study group 
was assembled under the auspices of State's Vietnam Committee. Its products were 
funneled through William Sullivan, head of the committee, to its members and 
thence to the principal officials of the agencies represented. However, the papers 
produced by the study group did not necessarily represent coordinated inter- 
departmental views. 

The study examined three alternative approaches to subjecting North Vietnam 
to coercive pressures: (1) non-attributable pressures (similar to the advanced 
stages of the covert actions program); (2) overt U.S. deployments and operations 
not directed toward DRV territory; and (3) overt U.S. actions against North 
Vietnam, including amphibious, naval and air attacks. In addition, it encompassed 
a number of "supporting studies" on such subjects as U.S. objectives, problems of 
timing, upper limits of U.S. action, congressional action, control arrangements, in- 
formation policy, negotiating problems, and specific country problems. By ad- 
dressing such a range of subjects, participants in the study came to grips with a 
number of broader issues valuable for later policy deliberations (e.g., costs and 
risks to the U.S. of contemplated actions; impact of the Sino-Soviet split; pos- 
sible face-saving retreats). 

In support of this study and in order to permit necessary political evaluations 
concerning the military alternatives available, the ICS were asked to furnish their 
views on the following issues: (1) the overall military capabilities of the DRV 
and Chinese Communists with respect to logistical capacity, geographical areas 
of operation, time required to initiate operations, and capacity for concurrent re- 
actions in different regions; (2) miUtary actions against NVN, using air and 
naval power only, which the GVN might undertake alone or which the U.S. 
might undertake both with and without public acknowledgment; (3) NVN tar- 
gets, attack on which would be most effective in inhibiting particular DRV 
military capabilities; (4) course of action likely to bring about cessation of 
DRV support for the conflicts in Laos and South Vietnam; (5) action most 
likely to deter communist attacks on various parts of Asia in the event of a 
large-scale communist reaction to attacks on NVN; (6) the extent to which the 
United States could counter such reactions, using only air and naval operations 
and different ordnance combinations; and (7) modifications needed in current 
contingency plans to provide for U.S. responses depending "primarily upon air 
activities rather than the intervention of substantial U.S. ground forces." 

The work of the study group resulted in an interim report on 1 March 1964, 
just prior to Secretary McNamara's and CJCS Taylor's visit to South Vietnam. 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964— Jan. 1965 155 

This they carried with them in the form of a summary analysis of the group's 
findings. During a brief stopover in Honolulu, these findings and the issues raised 
by the Secretary's memorandum to the JCS were discussed. Particular emphasis 
was given to the possible advantage to be derived from converting the current 
operations into an "overt Vietnamese program with participation by [the] U.S. 
as required to obtain adequate results." 

3. Study Group Analysis of Proposed Actions 

The study group had given considerable attention to overt U.S. actions against 
North Vietnam. Its analysis was based on a concept of exploiting "North Viet- 
namese concern that their industrialization achievements might be wiped out or 
could be defended (if at all) only at the price of Chicom control" and of 
demonstrating "that their more powerful communist allies would not risk their 
own interests for the sake of North Vietnam." The actions it proposed were 
aimed at accomplishing five objectives: (1) induce North Vietnam to curtail its 
support of the Viet Cong in South Vietnam; (2) reduce the morale of the Viet 
Cong; (3) stiffen the Khanh government and discourage moves toward neutral- 
ism; (4) show the world that we will take strong measures to prevent the spread 
of communism; and (5) strengthen morale in Asia. However, the study group 
cautioned that "public justification of our actions and its expressed rationale must 
be based primarily upon the fact of Northern support for and direction of the 
war in the South in violation of the independence of South Vietnam." It then 
outlined a series of public informational, domestic political, and international 
diplomatic steps desirable for establishing this justification. 

In seeking to achieve the objective cited above, the study group suggested 
military actions with the best potential and raised some vital policy issues. In 
ascending order of the degree of national commitment, the study group believed 
each would entail, the military actions were as follows: (1) "deploy to Thailand, 
South Vietnam, Laos and elsewhere the forces, sea, air and land, required to 
counter a North Vietnamese or Chicom response of the largest likely order"; 
(2) "initiate overt air reconnaissance activities as a means of dramatizing North 
Vietnamese involvement"; beginning with high-level flights and following with 
low-level missions; (3) "take limited air or ground action in Cambodia and Laos, 
including hot pursuit across the Cambodian border and limited operations across 
the Laos border"; (4) "blockade Haiphong," which would "have dramatic politi- 
cal effect because it is a recognized military action that hits at the sovereignty of 
North Vietnam and suggests strongly that we may plan to go further"; (5) 
"establish a limited air defense capability around Saigon"; and (6) conduct air 
strikes on key North Vietnamese LOC's, infiltrator training camps, key industrial 
complexes, and POL storage. It is important to note that the order of commit- 
ment perceived in early 1964 was considerably different from the order which 
most observers would assign to such actions at the time of this writing. The 
ground force deployments (Item 1 ) were primarily deterrent deployments to 
Thailand, on the model of those made during the 1961-62 Laotian crisis. Block- 
ading (Item 4) was considered a low-commitment, low-risk action through most 
of 1964. Significantly, the last set of actions "in any number" was cited as imply- 
ing "a U.S. commitment to go all the way if necessary." Thus, the group cau- 
tioned that before embarking on such steps the Administration should consider 
how far it would be willing to go in the event of possible reactions. For example, 
how long would we persist "in defiance of international pressures for a cease-fire 
and conference"? Or, how far would we go, either within the proposed concept 

156 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

or by escalating beyond it, in continuing military pressures if the DRV did not 
comply — or if it decided to escalate? 

Although warning of the need to be prepared "to follow through against 
Communist China if necessary," the study group estimated that neither China 
nor the Soviet Union would intervene militarily, other than to supply equipment. 
In view of these estimates and the study group's basic assumption of DRV 
sensitivity to industrial losses, its assessments of the likely outcomes of the actions 
it discussed are significant. Asserting that pressures against North Vietnam were 
"no substitute for successful counterinsurgency in South Vietnam," the group 
listed the probable positive gains: (1) U.S. action could demonstrate U.S. power 
and determination, along with restraint, to Asia and the world at large; (2) U.S. 
action would lead to some reduction in Viet Cong morale; and (3) U.S. action 
if carefully planned and executed might improve our negotiating position over 
what it would otherwise be. (The group saw negotiation as "virtually inevitable.") 
However, it then countered with the following judgment: 

^ It is not likely that North Vietnam would (if it could) call off the war 
in the South even though U.S. actions would in time have serious economic 
and political impact. Overt action against North Vietnam would be unlikely 
to produce reduction in Viet Cong activity sufficiently to make victory on 
the ground possible in South Vietnam unless accompanied by new U.S. 
bolstering actions in South Vietnam and considerable improvement in the 
! government there. The most to be expected would be reduction of North 
I Vietnamese support of the Viet Cong for a while and, thus, the gaining of 
some time and opportunity by the government of South Vietnam to improve 

When he returned from his visit to South Vietnam, Secretary McNamara 
recommended against either the United States or the GVN undertaking overt 
actions against North Vietnam "at this time." One compelling reason was Gen- 
eral Khanh's expressed wish not to engage in overt operations until a firmer 
GVN political base had been established, but there were others as well. Mr. 
McNamara regarded such actions as "extremely delicate . . . both from the 
military and political standpoints," because of specific problems. These were 
identified as: (1) the problem of justifying such actions; (2) the problem of 
"communist escalation"; and (3) the problem of pressures for premature negoti- 
ations. Moreover, he stated the judgment that the practical range of our overt 
options did not permit assured achievement of our practical objectives. In identi- 
fying these, he drew a distinction similar to that made by the interagency study 
group — between the stated objective of eliminating Hanoi's control of the VC 
insurgency and the "practical" objectives of "collapsing the morale and the self- 
assurance of the Viet Cong cadres . . . and bolstering the morale of the Khanh 
regime." [Doc. 1581 

What Mr. McNamara did recommend for military actions outside South Viet- 
nam reflected the contemporary concerns over Laos. Prior to his visit, the in- 
creased NVA activity in eastern Laos had prompted several recommendations for 
military measures to thwart new communist territorial gains in that country and 
to interrupt the flow of men and materiel into South Vietnam along the Laotian 
infiltration routes. In particular, elements within the Department of Defense urged 
efforts to lift existing restrictions on cross-border pursuit of engaged forces into 
Laos, including accompaniment of GVN air and ground forces by U.S. advisory 
personnel. They also sought authorization for both GVN and U.S. aircraft to 
overfly Laos for reconnaissance purposes. The ICS urged low-level reconnais- 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 157 

sance flights over Laos as advantageous both for collecting badly needed intelli- 
gence and for visibly displaying U.S. power. The State Department recommended 
deploying twelve F-lOO's to Thailand, with a view toward its potential deterrence 
and signalling impacts on communist activities in Laos. On his return from South 
Vietnam, two of the actions for which Secretary McNamara sought Presidential 
authority dealt with activities affecting Laos: (1) (Recommendation 11) "hot 
pursuit" and small-scale operations across the Laotian border by GVN ground 
forces "for the purpose of border control" and "continued high-level U.S. over- 
flights" of the border; and (2) (Recommendation 12) preparations to be ready 
"to initiate the full range of Laotian and Cambodian border control actions" 
within 72 hours. 

Actions recommended by the Secretary to provide measures aimed directly at 
North Vietnam (Recommendation 12) fell into two categories: (1) preparation 
for "retaliatory actions," defined to include "overt high and/or low level recon- 
naissance flights . . . over North Vietnam" as well as "tit-for-tat" bombing 
strikes and commando-type raids; and (2) planning and preparations "to be in 
a position on 30 days' notice to initiate the [sic] program of 'Graduated Overt 
Military Pressure' against North Vietnam." The wording of the latter recom- 
mendation is notable because, at the time, there apparently was no planned overt 
"program" in existence; the discussion of overt pressures appended to the Sec- 
retary's report was considerably less than even a recommendation for such a 
program. The concept of retaliatory actions was more explicitly defined, but 
here too, it was apparent that important questions like, "Retaliation for what?" 
and "Under what circumstances?" had yet to be answered clearly. The scenario 
described in the report's appended "Illustrative Program" of retaliatory pressure 
seemed to mix elements appropriate for a continuous program of military actions 
against North Vietnam with those suitable as tit-for-tat response to specific 

Each of the Secretary's recommendations was approved by President Johnson 
at a National Security Council meeting on 17 March, with the directive for all 
agencies "to proceed energetically" in executing them. Subsequent planning 
activities by different implementing agencies indicate that they did not share a 
common view of the policy implications and assumptions contained in these 


1. Two Basic Approaches: JCS and State-ISA 

The principal planning agencies responding to the President's directive regard- 
ing Recommendations 11 and 12 were the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Depart- 
ment of State together with OSD/ISA, and the two efforts took rather different 
approaches. The JCS responded literally to the instructions and tasked CINCPAC 
to prepare an action program of border control and retaliatory operations with 
72-hour responsiveness and one of "graduated overt military pressure by GVN 
and U.S. forces" against North Vietnam with 30-day responsiveness. The JCS 
preparation for near-term implementation of these recommendations went beyond 
the usual contingency planning as indicated by their instruction that CINCPAC's 
plan "permit sequential implementation" of the three actions. The JCS approved 
the CINCPAC submission, as OPLAN 37-64, on 17 April 1964. 

The State-ISA planning activity proceeded under the apparent belief that the 
actions included in Secretary McNamara's Recommendation 12 were approved 

158 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol III 

as contingency options, one or more or none of which might be selected for 
implementation at some time in the future. In fact, State believed the Secretary's 
categories of action were not in keeping with likely developments — "that [cross- 
border] actions against Cambodia and Laos are dependent heavily on the political 
position in these countries at the time, and that, in general, it seems more likely 
that we would wish to hold off in hitting Cambodia until we had gone ahead 
hard against North Vietnam itself . . . there appear to be reasons not to open 
up other theaters until we have made clear that North Vietnam is the main 
theater and have not really started on it." Further, it questioned the utility of 
tit-for-tat retaliatory actions because of ( 1 ) the difficulty of responding in kind, 
or in a fitting manner, to the most likely — terrorist — variety of VC provocations 
and (2) their inappropriateness for conveying "the picture of concerted and 
steadily rising pressures that reflect complete U.S. determination to finish the job." 
Accordingly, the State-ISA effort began by developing a political scenario 
designed to accommodate only the graduated military pressures referred to in 
Recommendation 12. These were divided into three major categories: (1) covert 
GVN action against North Vietnam with covert U.S. support; (2) overt GVN 
action with covert U.S. support; and (3) overt joint GVN and U.S. action. The 
two categories involving overt activities were conceived of as possible future 
developments, contingent upon a Presidential decision that clearly had not been 

2. Different Approaches: Perceptions of the Strategic Problem in Southeast Asia 

The differences in approach taken in the two planning efforts cannot be ex- 
planned simply by the obvious military and political division of labor. It is clear 
from documents of the period that there was considerable coordination between 
the two groups, with the JCS planners looking to State and ISA for political 
guidance and the latter group looking to the former for recommendations for 
appropriate military actions. During the early months of 1964, these are well 
illustrated in the different approaches taken to the problem of determining the 
extent and implications of the movement of men and supplies through Laos. 

At the end of 1963 and early in 1964, there was general agreement among 
all Washington agencies that we lacked adequate information concerning the 
nature and magnitude of whatever movement of men and materiel was occurring 
along the Laotian infiltration routes. For example, citing the "lack of clarity" 
on the "role of external intrusion" in South Vietnam, Walt Rostow urged William 
Sullivan on the eve of his March visit to attempt to "come back from Saigon 
with as lucid and agreed a picture" as possible on the extent of the infiltration and 
its influence on the Viet Cong. A few days later, the Defense Intelligence Agency 
informed Secretary McNamara that "certain intelligence gaps" were "related 
primarily to the types and amounts of weapons and materiel coming into South 
Vietnam, [and] the number of Viet Cong personnel infiltrating into South 
Vietnam . . ." To alleviate this situation, the JCS favored such measures as 
ground probes into Laos by GVN reconnaissance teams and low-level recon- 
naissance flights over the trail areas by GVN and U.S. aircraft. The State Depart- 
ment, supported by OSD/ISA, opposed such operations as potentially damaging 
to our relations with the Laotian government. 

In supporting its recommendations and in its comments on State-ISA pro- 
posals, the JCS argued that an integrated approach should be taken to the security 
of Southeast Asia, with our actions in Laos closely related to those taken on 
behalf of South Vietnam. They saw the key problem for all of Southeast Asia as 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 159 

the DRV's aggressive intent. As they stated, "the root of the problem is in 
North Vietnam and must be dealt with there." Moreover, they felt that recon- 
naissance operations into and over Laos were justified because they saw 
Laotian security as dependent on that of South Vietnam. "Laos," they argued, 
"would not be able to endure the establishment of a communist — or pseudo 
neutralist — state on its eastern flank." They criticized our "self-imposed restric- 
tions" as tending to make the task in Vietnam "more complex, time-consuming, 
and in the end, more costly" and for possibly signalling "irresolution to our 
enemies." Accordingly, they implied that the United States should convince the 
Laotian Premier of the need to take direct action against the Viet Minh in- 
filtration through low-level reconnaissance and other cross-border operations — 
but above all, to carry out these actions in order to impress the DRV with our 
resolve to deny its insurgents a sanctuary. In the specific context of recommend- 
ing these kind of actions, they stated "that the time has come to lift the restric- 
tions which limit the effectiveness of our military operations." 

The State-ISA policy view also regarded Laos and Vietnam as parts of the 
overall Southeast Asian problem, but in early 1964 their conception of how U.S. 
objectives might be achieved extended beyond the need to thwart the com- 
munist guerrilla threat. In this view, policy success meant "bolstering the capa- 
bility of all free countries in the area to resist communist encroachment." This 
required cooperating with the foreign governments of these countries and being 
careful not to erode their authority or contribute to their instability. Thus, 
instead of cross-border ground probes or low-level reconnaissance missions, 
which might prove politically embarrassing to the shaky regime of Laotian 
Premier Souvanna Phouma, the State-ISA view favored extending the mission of 
Laotian ground reconnaissance teams, which had been sponsored covertly by 
the CIA with the Premier's support. Moreover, this approach to policy included 
the view that, within the scope of broad regional policy goals, solutions to 
problems in individual countries should be tailored to the unique political con- 
text of each country. Insofar as Laos was concerned, this meant not only being 
sensitive to Souvanna Phouma's political status, but also adhering to the letter 
and spirit of the 1962 Geneva Accords, on which it was conceded the structure of 
a stable political future must be erected. In the State-ISA view, the only alterna- 
tive to this approach would be an eventual large-scale deployment of U.S. ground 
forces to drive out the Pathet Lao/NVA forces. 

The meaning of these different overall policy conceptions for the planning 
processes of April and early May 1964 was that the U.S. Government was faced 
with a dilemma — whether to take remedial military actions which might ease 
the short-term problems in South Vietnam or whether to dramatize our com- 
mitment to all of Southeast Asia with the long-term solution in mind. The 
dilemma was particularly complex because elements of one alternative were 
needed to enable progress toward the other. Specifically, three accomplishments 
were considered vital to our long-term objectives in Southeast Asia: (1) to con- 
vince Hanoi, whose direction of the insurgencies was certain, of our resolve to 
prevent the success of its aggressive policies; (2) to maintain the cooperation of 
Souvanna Phouma and the Laotian neutralist political structure (which also re- 
quired the support of the Geneva members) and thereby preserve the framework 
of the 1962 Geneva Accords; and (3) to build a stable, effective political 
authority in South Vietnam. Vital to the third accomplishment was our major 
short-term objective — of permanently reversing the trends in the guerrilla war 
in South Vietnam. These, in turn, were believed to be sustained in their cur- 
rently deteriorating direction by the infiltration of men and supplies from North 

160 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

Vietnam. The possibility was recognized that determining the extent of this 
infiltration and eliminating it, if necessary, might be a decisive element in a 
solution of the short-term problem. 

However, the short-term solution involved potential threats to the long-term 
policy elements: the most effective measures for obtaining the necessary intelli- 
gence involved actions likely to alienate Souvanna and damage the political struc- 
ture in Laos. Yet, some of this same kind of intelligence would be important in 
convincing the Premier of the need to permit low-level reconnaissance flights and 
other kinds of operations. On the other hand, the impact of the infiltration on 
the war in South Vietnam was far from certain. For example, Ambassador Unger 
reported in December that the recent use of the Laotian corridor was not ex- 
tensive enough to have influenced significantly the then intensive VC efforts in 
South Vietnam. Hence, if the desired military operations were undertaken without 
Souvanna's approval, and it was discovered that the infiltration was not really 
crucial to the war in the South, a long-term interest would have been compro- 
mised without receiving any real short-term advantage. 

To further complicate the picture, direct strikes against North Vietnam were 
being advocated as a means to obtain both long and short-term goals. On the 
one hand, overt military actions had been recommended to convince the DRV 
of our resolve. On the other hand, they were proposed as a means to force 
Hanoi to stop the flow of material assistance to the South. Moreover, it was 
generally agreed within policy circles that such actions must be supported by 
public disclosures of the kind of convincing evidence of Hanoi's support for the 
VC that the Administration did not yet possess. 

By the end of March, one aspect of policy puzzle had been resolved. On 17 
March, Ambassador Lodge reported a long conversation between General Khanh 
and a Laotian representative, with Souvanna's permission, at which a working 
agreement between military forces of the two governments was obtained. Khanh 
and Phoumi Nousavan, Laotian rightist military commander, arranged to resume 
diplomatic relations between the two countries during that week and came to 
other more specific agreements as follows: 

1. Laotians agreed to allow South Vietnam to have free passage in 
Southern Laos, to create a combined Laotian-Vietnamese staff to use all the 
bases including Tchepone, and to conduct bombardment with unmarked 
T-28 planes (in the areas where FAR (Phoumi's) forces were engaged). 

2. The 10-kilometer limit on hot pursuit is abrogated; commando raids 
and sabotage can be undertaken without limit by combined Laotian and 
South Vietnamese units; South Vietnamese officers will serve the Laotian 
units to provide added leadership. 

Previously, President Johnson had indicated approval of cross-border ground 
penetrations into Laos "along any lines which can be worked out between 
Khanh and Phoumi with Souvanna's endorsement." Although asking Secretaries 
Rusk and McNamara to develop a joint recommendation concerning U.S. par- 
ticipation in air strikes within Laos, the President went on to state a position 
consonant with that of the State-ISA view: 

My first thought is that it is important to seek support from Souvanna 
Phouma and to build a stronger case before we take action which might 
have only limited military effect and could trigger wider Communist action 
in Laos. 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 161 

3. Planning Overt Actions on Contingency Basis {April-May) 

The planning efforts of April and early May attempted to accommodate the 
remaining contradictory aspects of the policy dilemma. On the same day he 
signed NSAM 288 approving Secretary McNamara's visit report, the President 
sent the first of two closely spaced messages to Ambassador Lodge that could 
have set the tone for the planning ahead. (Presumably the President's views 
were communicated to the principal officials in the agencies involved in planning 
for Southeast Asia.) Commenting on Lodge's critique of the McNamara report, 
he indicated favor for the Ambassador's expressed preference for "carrot and 
stick" pressures short of overt military action, and specifically "reserve [d] judg- 
ment on overt U.S. measures against North Vietnam." Three days later he 
cabled confirmation that actions being studied with North Vietnam as a target 
were regarded strictly as contingency planning. 

Principal focus for the planning during April was OSD/ISA, with assistance 
from the Far Eastern Bureau and the Vietnam Committee, in the Department of 
State, and from the JCS. During the first three weeks of April, it developed three 
or four versions of scenarios of political actions "to set the stage and to develop 
support both at home and abroad" for different categories of military action 
against North Vietnam. Initially, the categories, and their scenarios, were re- 
garded separately, although the first "Covert SVN action against the North (with 
U.S. covert support)," was recognized as the stage of political-military activity 
in which the United States was currently engaged. The others, (1) covert U.S. 
support of overt GVN aerial mining and air strike operations and (2) overt joint 
U.S. and GVN aerial reconnaissance, naval displays, naval bombardments and 
air attacks, would necessarily have to follow. In subsequent versions, the planning 
evolved more explicitly toward a continuous scenario in three sequential phases. 

In each version, however, the "current" scenario included such political 
measures as: (1) a speech by General Khanh stating GVN war aims; (2) a 
briefing for "friendly" senators and congressmen on our aims in Southeast Asia 
and the problem of DRV directions of the VC; (3) public explanations of U.S. 
policy toward South Vietnam; and (4) diplomatic discussions with the United 
Kingdom and the North Atlantic Council. Each of the second scenarios, which 
came to be characterized by GVN-USAF/FARMGATE air operations, con- 
tained similar actions but placed emphasis on political initiatives that would 
surface in Saigon rather than in Washington, "so as to maintain the credibility 
of the sovereignty of the GVN." This stage also included such measures as: (1) 
anotTiierlrip to Saigon by Secretary McNamara for the specific purpose of obtain- 
ing General Khanh's agreement to begin overt GVN actions against the North; 
(2) consultations with Thailand and the Philippines; (3) Presidential con- 
sultations with key congressional leaders; and (4) public release of a new State 
Department White Paper on North Vietnamese involvement in the insurgency. 
Each of the final scenarios, which came to be associated with our overt responses 
to DRV/CHICOM escalations, included diplomatic and political preparations for 
direct U.S. actions. Significantly, the scenarios also incorporated initiatives^ 
leading to an international conference on Vietnam at Geneva. 

The evolution toward a continuous sequential scenario reflects the influence 
of the JCS. Their response to the 31 March draft: (1) called for approximate 
time-phasing of the various steps in "the scenario"; (2) urged a fusion of the 
scenario with CINCPAC operational planning (OPLAN 37/64); and (3) at- 

162 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol III 

tempted to incorporate Secretary McNamara's requested border control opera- 
tions into the political actions recommended for the current time period. More- 
over, the JCS developed a "political/military scenario" for graduated overt 
military pressure against North Vietnam, as called for in Secretary McNamara's 
Recommendation No. 12, 16 March 1964. Within this scenario the JCS included 
"expanded U.S. overt military pressures" against the DRV. In effect, they out- 
lined a continually intensifying program of military pressures which increasingly 
involved U.S. military participation. 

Complementing the thrust of JCS advice, the next draft, 8 April, removed cur- 
rent political actions from the list of political scenarios and treated them in a 
section entitled "Steps Which Should be Taken Now." The current scenarios in- 
cluded: (1) GVN/FARMGATE graduated overt military pressures against 
North Vietnam; (2) separate Laotian and Cambodian border control actions; 
(3) separate GVN retaliatory actions against North Vietnam; and^cS^ overt U.S. 
graduated military pressures against North Vietnam. The detailed scenario for 
the GVN/FARMGATE operations was reviewed by Mr. McNaughton with 
William Sullivan of the Department of State and Michael Forrestal of the White 
House staff. The scenario version resulting from this conference, contains the 
JCS-recommended time-phasing, in terms of D-Day minus X approximations. It 
also incorporates specific military actions recommended by the JCS submission. 
Apparently, only this scenario and the detailed description of "Steps Which 
Should be Taken Now" were circulated for comment by other agencies. Ap- 
parently, this draft provided the basis for scenario discussions held in Saigon 
among Secretary Rusk, Assistant Secretary William Bundy, CJCS Wheeler, 
Ambassador Lodge and certain military and civilian members of the Country 
Team oiy r9^0 April 1964. 

A later version was prepared on 20 April and forwarded to the Chairman, 
Joint Chiefs of Staff, on 23 April. Significantly, it contained only three scenarios: 
I. "Uncommitting" steps which should be taken now; II. GVN/FARMGATE 
graduated overt pressures on DRV; III. Contingency Plan for U.S.^vert £esponse 
to DRV/CHICOM reactions. It also carrieH the fOTov^ing comment"c6nl;erning 
their relationship: 

It should be noted that carrying out Scenario I does not necessarily 
commit the U.S. to commence Scenario II; and that Scenario II may be 
carried out without requiring resort to Scenario III. However, since Scenario 
II cannot be launched without our being prepared to carry out Scenario III, 
you should assume that it ma^ be necessary for the D-Day of Scenario III 
to occur as soon as 10 days after the D-Day of Scenario 11. Scenario III 
1 is a contingency plan of action which we would contemplate putting into 
7 leffect only if the DRV's or Chicom's reaction to Scenario II wasjudged by 
Ithe President to require overt U.S. response. " 

At the Saigon meeting, the concerns of the local officials for initiating some 
immediate measures to relieve the situation in South Vietnam came into con- 
flict with the longer-range scenario approach. Ambassador Lodge "questioned the 
wisdom both of massive publicity and of rnassive destruction actions before a 
well-planned and well executed diplomatic attempt had been made tCL_p.ers.uade 
NVM to call off the VC." He went on to propose communicating to Hanoi, 
through a tEird-country "interlocutor," our intent to embark on a "carrot and 
stick program," ^^^ining the threat of increasing air strikes with the granting 
of some assistarJce Jo the DRV. His supporting rationale explicitly cautioned 
that the VC rlacopn to large-scale measures against the North might be 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jal,. if 65 163 

violent and damaging to the South Vietnamese economy. More significant may 
have been the fact that the "large-scale measures" proposed in the scenario came 
quite late in the second stage, a stage that may not have been entered — at least 
for some time. 

What the Ambassador had in mind regarding a carrot and stick approach was 
not entirely new. It had first been proposed in his memorandum to Governor 
Harriman on 30 October 1963. It was raised again in cables to the White House 
on 20 February and 15 March 1964. Initially proposed in the context of a 
scheme to encourage theLneut^it^ of '^fordi^ Vietnam, the carrot and stick con- 
cept envisioned ^^^^^^^o ntract w ith Hanoi ^at which ajTuTtimatum^ would be 
delivered demanding the DRV's cessation ^j,:support for The "VC insurgency. 
Rewards for compliam5e~w6ul^ mckide our making available fo^ imports, to 
help alleviate the known shortages affecting North Vietnam in late 1963 Xand 
early '64). In the case of non-compliance, we would undertake previously 
threatened punitive strikes to which we would nol admit publicly. What was 
new in the proposal of 19 April were: ( 1 ) the suggestion for using a third country 
intermediary and (2) that one element of the "carrot" might be our pledge 
to withdraw someJJ.S. personnel from South Vietnam. The latter suggestion was 
criticized by William ^undy on the basis that we didn't yet know how many 
and what types of American military personnel were needed in South Vietnam. 
Lodge countered with the comment that "it would be very hard indeed for Ho 
Chi Minh to provide a sal able package for his own people and for other com- 
munist nations unless we can do something that Hanoi can point to, even though 
it would not be a real concession on our part." 

The ensuing discussion, on a variety of points, provided an indication of some 
of Secretary Rusk's paramount concerns, which may shed important light on later 
policy decisions. For example, he sought opinions on the likely GVN reaction 
to a Geneva Conference specifically for Laos. In another context, he stated "his 
concern that the extent of infiltration and other provisions of support from t' 
North be proven to the satisfaction of our own public, of our allies, and of th' 
neutralists." During a discussion of the availability_pf,^ther^^^an^troops 
fight in Vietnam, Secretary Rusk^stated "that we are not ..gojii^^to^take on Jhe 
masses^of Re d China wit h ouMjjnoitjgd manpower in a conventional war." He 
also stated the opinion that the Chinese would noFopTlo^lmmTerirTTritftarily 
unless they felt they could count on Soviet support and that we could bring 
great economic pressure toj^ear on the Chinese through our allies. While ex- 
pressing the opinion thaCffanoi's"r(inuriciMon of the Viet Cong would "take the 
heait_ou^ af-.lhe_in^^^^ he indicated doubt that elimination of North Viet- 

nam's industrial targets would have much of an adverse impact on it. More- 
over," the Secretary acknowledged the possibility that such an act "would have 
f orfeited th e""'hostage';which we hold in JheJ^rtJi,^ . . . without markedly affect- 
ing the fighi^ against the Viet Cong, at leas t in the short run." ^ > 

, The~major immediate outcome of the meeting was a decision to go ahead 
with the juggestifiH^to arrange for the visit of a third country interlocutor to 
Hanoi. QrL^lD_ApxiV Secretary Rusk visited Ottawa and obtained an agreement 
from the Canadian Government to include such a mission among the instruc- 
tions for its new I.C.C. representative. According to the agreement, the new 
official, J. Blair Seaborn, would: (1) try to determine Ho's attitude toward 
Chine se sup port, whether or not he feels over-extended, and his aims in South 
Vietnam; (2) stress U.S. determination to see its objectives in South Vietnam 
achieved; (3) emphasize the limits of U.S. aims in Southeast Asia and that it 
wanted no permanent bases or installations there; and (4) convey U.S. willing- 

164 Grurel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol HI 

ness to assist North Vietnam with its economic problems. Other results of the 
Saigon meeting consisted of a variety of actions recommended by Secretary 
Rusk. Of these, only four were related to the issue of mihtary pressures against 
North Vietnam. These were recommendations to ( 1 ) engage "more flags" in 
efforts directly supporting the GVN; (2) deploy a carrier task force to establish 
a permanent U.S. naval presence at Cam Ranh Bay; (3) initiate anti-junk 
operations that would "inch northward" _along^the^ Vietnam coastrana"^-! eiSltst 
SEATO countries in an effort to isolate the DRV from economic or cultural 
relations with the Free World. 

4, Confti^of Short and Long Term Views: Caution Prevails 

During the last week of April and the early weeks of May, the contention 
between those urging prompt measures and those counseling a deliberate, 
cautious pacing of our actions continued. For example, Walt Rostow urged 
Secretary Rusk to consider how difficult it would be to make a credible case 
in support of actions to force Hanoi's adherence to the Gexi£LYa__Accords if 
political deterioration tojok placejji Laos and South_J/i£txiam. Predicting such 
an eventuality in the coming Trionths, he implied that the necessary actions should 
be taken soon. Similarly, Ambassador Lodge continued to advocate prompt 
implementation of his carrot ji^nd_^[c]c_approach including, if VC provocations 
warranted, a welUtimedjr^epri^ )ju^tjxior to Conimiss Seaborn's arrival 
ill Hanoi. These views were rorTimunicated to Secretary McNamara and William 
Sullivan during their visit to Saigon^,^ 1 2-13 May, and confirmed in a cable to 
the President three days later. 

The JCS commented on the final version of the State-ISA political-military 
scenarios and criticized them for not including the more immediate actions re- 
quested in NSAM 288: namely, border control and retaliatory operations. 
Making a distinction between border operations already arranged for (Recom- 
mendation 11) and those intended by Recommendation 12, they advocated in- 
corporating in the second-stage scenario retaliatory operations and overt military 
pressures against North Vietnam. They also urged including border control 
operations of battalion-size or larger, low-level reconnaissance by U.S. aircraft, 
and VNAF air operations in Laos that include strikes on bridges and armed 
route reconnaissance. In justifying such actions, they stated: 

. . . military op£rations against the DRV to heJp_„sLahilize the situation in 
the Republic of Vietnam, and other operations planned to help stabilize the 
situation in Laos, iXvolve the attack of the same target systems and to a 
considerabl^jext^p^ :he same targets. Assistance in the achievement of the 
objective in tTie Republic of Vietnam through operations against NVN 
could likewise have a similar result in Laos, offering the possibility of a 
favorable long-term solution to the insurgency problem in Southeast Asia. 

However, the deliberate, cautious approach continued to hold sway. Secre- 
tary McNamara's trip to Saigon, called for early in the second-stage scenario 
as a means to obtain General Khanh's agreement to initiate overt operations 
against the North, did not include this purpose. On the contrary, a week prior 
to the visit General Khanh had raised with Ambassador Lodge the issue of 
putting his country on a fully mobilized war footing — accompanying it with a 
declaration that further interference by Hanoi in South Vietnamese affairs would 
bring reprisals — and Secretary McNamara was instructed to impress upon 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 165 

Khanh that such drastic measures and threatening gestures were unnecessary 
at the moment. More important, it was stressed that the GVN "systematically 
and aggressively demonstrate to the world that the subversion of the South is 
directed from Hanoi," through sending "capable ambassadors to the important 
capitals of the world to convince governments of this fact." Moreover, while 
assuring General Khanh that our commitment to his country and Laos "does 
not rule out the use of force . . . against North Vietnam," the Secretary was 
advised to remind him that "such actions must be supplementary to and not a 
substitute for successful counterinsurgency in the South" — and that "we do 
not intend to provide military support nor undertake the military objective of 
'rolling back' communist control in North Vietnam." 


1. Laos in Danger: "Pressure Planning" 

In mid-May 1964, a new factor entered the policy-shaping process — a factor 
which cast a shadow of crisis management oyer the entire decision making 
environment. On 17 May, pro-communist forces in Laos began an offensive?^ 
which led to their control of a significant portion of the Plaine des Jarres. On^ 
the 21st, the United States obtained Souvanna Phouma's permission to conduct 
low-level reconaissance operations over the occupied areas. For several weeks 
the offensive threatened to destroy the security of the neutralist-rightist position — 
and with it the political underpinning of U.S.-Laotian policy. These developments 
lent a greater sense of urgency to the arguments of those advisers favoring 
prompt measures to strengthen the U.S. position in Southeast Asia. 

The most avid of those urging prompt action were the ICS. On 19 May they 
had recommended a new, more intensive series of covert operations for the four- 
month Phase II under OPLAN 34-A. [Doc. 161] On the 23rd, referring to their 
earlier recommendations to incorporate larger border contol and retaliatoy 
operations and overt graduated pressures in the next-phase scenario, they ex- 
pressed opinions on the urgency of preparing for such actions. Particular em- 
phasis was placed on the need to consult with the GVN so that the necessary 
training and joint operational preparations could take place. The ICS prodded 
State with the comment, "The Department of State should take the lead on 
this but as yet has not," at the same time recalling that the operations in question 
had been provided for under the approved CINCPAC OPLAN 37-64 (17 
April 1964). In another plea for prompt implementation, they argued 
these operations were to be plausibly deniable by the United States, "8^[^rts^ to 
create the necessary climate of opinion should not be, of necessity, too time 

Figuring prominently in the retaliatory operations and the graduated pres- 
sures advocated by the ICS against North Vietnam were air strikes^ — some by 
the VNAF alone and some in cooperation with USAF/FARMGATE and other 
U.S. air units. What they thought these kinds of operations could accomplish 
varied according to the targets struck and the composition of the attacking force. 
Assuming an air campaign ordered for the purpose of: (1) causing the DRV 
to stop supporting the Viet Cong and Pathet Lao and (2) reducing its capability 
to renew such support, the ICS perceived the following categories of accom- 
plishment: Category A — They believed that undertaking "armed reconnaissance 

166 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol III 

along highways leading to Laos," striking "airfields identified with supporting" 
the insurgents, and destroying "supply and ammunition depots, petroleum stor- 
age and military (installations) connected with PL/VC support" would result in 
"a reduction of DRV support.'' Category B — They believed that striking the 
^'remaining airfields," destroying "important railroad and highway bridges" and 
"depots in northern NVN," conducting aerial mining operations, and bombing 
"petroleum storage in Hanoi and Haiphong" would result in a reduced "DRV 
: military capability to take action against Laos an^_J;he RVN." Category C — 
They cited the remaining capability for effectively destroyin'g ' the North Viet- 
namese industrial base. 

In the same appraisal, the JCS went on to estimate the time required to achieve 
85% damage against the various target categories, using different force com- 
binations in continuous operations. For Category A, they estimated, it would 
take the VNAF alone more than seven months, // they could sustain combat 
operations that long; the VNAF plus FARMGATE B-57's would require over 
two months. By using, in addition, U.S. land and carrier-based air units readily 
available in the Western Pacific, they claimed that targets in Category A could 
be eliminated in only tj^elve days; those in all categories could be destroyed in 
46_days. They added that sustaining this destruction on LOC targets would re- 
quire restrikes "conducted for an indeterminate period." 

The JCS were not the only Presidential advisers to sense the urgency created 
by the situation in Laos. Referring to "recent steps with regard to bombing opera- 
tions in Laos and reconnaissance which step up the pace," Secretary Rusk cabled 
Ambassador Lodge to seek suggestions for ways to achieve greater solidarity in 
South Vietnam. He explained that in Washington, the fragility of the situation in 
South Vietnam was seen as an obstacle to further U.S. military involvement in 
Southeast Asia. As he stated, "We need to assure the President that everything 
humanly possible is being done both in Washington and by the government of 
Vietnam to provide a solid base of determination from which far-reaching de- 
cisions could proceed." Lodge's reply reflected a new wrinkle in his usual pro- 
posals for prompt, but carefully masked actions. He expressed the attitude that 
I some kind of firm action against North Vietnam by U.S. and South Vietnamese 
jiforces was the only way to bring about a significant improvement in the^XiVN 
I effort. This view complemented an appaTent1y--growTTrg7i5etieT a^ Presidential 
advisers "that additional efforts within SoudiJ/ietnam by the U.S. will not pre- 
vent further deterioration there." 

This belief, together with the threat presented by the Pathet Lao offensive, led 
to a resumption of scenario development. However, in the new "crisis manage- 
it" atmosphere, several new elements affected the process. One was the fact 
the latest scenario was prepared as a draft memorandum fo^the„President. 
Another was the expectation that it would be presented to and discussed among 
the principal officials of the participating agencies, serving as_an JEx^utive Com- 
mittee of the National Security Council. And finally, the crisis in Laos apparently 
lhad focused advisory interest primarily on one stage — that dealing with overt 
operations against North Vietnam. The scenario no longer contained a section 
devoted to "uncommitting steps which should be taken now." The rationale be- 
hind this shift of emphasis was explained to Ambassador Lodge, an outspoken 
critic of both the overt approach and the scenario, by Secretary Rusk: 

It is our present view here that [substantial initial attacks without ac- 
knowledgment] would simply not be feasible. Even if Hanoi itself did not 
publicize them, there are enough ICC and other observers in North Viet- 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 167 

nam who might pick them up and there is also the major possibility of 
leakage at the South Vietnam end. Thus, publicity seems almost inevitable 
to us here for any attack that did significant damage. 

2. A New Scenario: 30 Days of Sequential Politico-Military Action 

On the same day that the ICS urged that the GVN be consulted regarding 
preparations for border control and retaliatory operations, the new scenario of 
political and military actions was completed. The scenario called for a 30-day 
sequence of military and political pressures coupled with initiatives to enter 
negotiations with Hanoi (see Table 1). Military actions would not start until 
after "favorable action on a U.S. jCongres^ional Joint Resolution" supporting 
U.S. resistance to DRV aggressions in Southeast Asia. Initially, the strikes would 
be carried out by <3VN aircraft, but as they progressed, USAF/FARMGATE 
and other U.S. air units would join in. These "would continue despite negotia- \ 
tions, until there was clear evidence that North Vietnam had stopped its sub- i 
version of the South." The negotiating objectives would be to obtain both agree- I 
ment and evidence that (1) "terrorism, armed attacks, and armed resistance j 
stop" and (2) "communications on the networks out of the North are conducted 
entirely in uncoded form." 

Presented along with the scenario were assessments of likely communist re- 
actions and the possible U.S. responses to these moves. The most likely mili- 
tary reactions to the scenario actions were seen as expanded insurgency opera- 
tions, including possible "sjzeable infiltration" „ of North Vietnamese ground /^-^ 
forces, and a drive toward the Mekong by Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese 
forces. The Soviet Union was expected to intensify its diplomatic opposition to ^^4.4 
U.S. policies and China was expected to (1) augment North Vietnamese air 
defense capabilities, ^and (2) successfully dissuade Hanoi from any willingness 
(particularly after U.S. air operations began) to reduce its support of the Viet 
Cong. To counter communist reactions, the proposal specified in each contin- 
gency that intensified operations against North Vietnam would be the most effec- 
tiv(e_pp.tion. In response to intensified insurgency, considered the least intense 
(though most likdy) alternative available to the communist powers, the pro- 
posal inclu3ed~^ro vision for augmenting South Vietnamese forces "by U.S. 
/J^round forcesj)repositigned^^in South Vietnam or on board ship nearby." 

The May 23, 1964 scenario read as follows: (Table 1 ) 


1. Stall off any "conference on [Laos or] Vietnam until D-Day." 
i 2. Intermediary vfCanadian^) tell North Vietnam in general terms that 
lU.S. does not want to^Uestroy the North Vietnam regime (and indeed is 
willing "to provide a carrot"), but is determined to protect South Vietnam 
[from North Vietnam. ' ^'"^ 

3. (D-30) Presidential speech in general terms launching Joint Resolu- 

4. {D-(2&)j Obtain Joint Resolution approving pa^t actio ns and authoriz- 
ing \^aFever Ts^nec'essaTy^^ respect to Vietnam. 

Concurrently: An effort should be made to strengthen the posture in 
South Vietnam. Integrating . (interlarding in a single chain of command) ' v-^^^' 
the South Vietnamese and U.S. military and civilian elements critical to j ^^^j j^ 
pacification, down at least to the district level, might be undertaken. * 

5. (D-16) Direct CINCPAC to take all prepositioning and logistic ac- 
tions that can be taken "quietly" for the D-Day forces and the forces de- 
scribed in Paragraph 17 below. 

168 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol III 

6. (D-15) Get Khanh's agreement to start overt South Vietnamese air 
aUacks against targets in the North (see D-Day item 15 Below), and inform 
him of ^S^," guarantee to protect South Vietnam in the event of North 
Vietnamese and/or Chinese retaliation. 

7. (D-14) Consult with Thailand abd the Philippines to get permission 
for U.S. deployments; and consult with them plus U.K., Australia, New 
Zealand and Pakistan, asking for their open political support for the under- 
taking and for their participation in the re-enforcing action to be under- 
taken in anticipation of North Vietnamese and/or Chinese retaliation. 

8. (D-13) Release an expanded "Jordan Report," including recent pho- 
tography and evidence of the_ comrnunications ("nets, giving full docu- 
mentation of North Vietnamese supply and direction of the Viet Cong. 

9. (D-12) Direct CINCPAC to begin moving forces and making specific 
plans on the assumption that strikes will be made on D-Day (see Attach- 
ment in backup materials for deployments). 

^JX!^„(p-10) Khanh makes speech demanding that North Vietnam stop 
(^^ression, threatening unspecified military action if he does not. (He 
colu^ld refer to a "carrot.") 

11. (D-3) Discussions with Allies not covered in Item 7 above. 

12. (D-3) President informs U.S. public (and thereby North Vietnam) 
that action may come, referring to Khanh speech (Item 10 above) and 
declaring support for South Vietnam. 

13. (D-1) Khanh announces that all efforts have failed and that attacks 
are imminent. (Again he refers to limited goal and possibly to "carrot.") 

14. (D-Day) Remove_U.S. dependents. 

15. (D-Day) Launch first strikes (see Attachment C** for targets). 
Inhi^ly,Cind;^_the^^ ports and strike North Vietnam's transport and related 
ability (bridges, trains! to move South; and then against targets which 
have maximurn, psychological effect on the North's w^illingness to stop in- 
surgency — POL storage, selected airfields, barracks/training areas, bridges, 
railroad yards, port facilities, communications, and industries. Initially, 
these strikes would be by South „y ietnam ese aircraft; they could then be 
expanded by adding FARMGATE, or U. S. aircra ft, or any combination 
of them. / 

{\^-T>2iyY^^^tov^niQXQncS^on ^^letnam; f^^wijQ^ to_UNi • ^^^^^ 
the limited objective: Not to overthrow the North Vietnam regime nor to 
destroy the country, but to stop DRV-directed Viet Cong terrorism and 
resistance to pacification efforts in the South. Essential that it be made 
clear that attacks on the North will continue {i.e., no cease-fire) until (a) 
terrorism, armed attacks, and armed resistance to pacification efforts in the 
South stop, and (b) communications on the networks out of the North are 
conducted entirely in uncoded form." ^.(^^-r^'^^ 

The scenario was circulated among members of th^ExCom and discussed 
during their meetings of 24 and 25 May. Apparently, modifications were made 
in the course of these meetings, as notations in the SecDef files indicate scenario 
versions of 24, 25 and 26 May. In addition to the assessments that accompanied 
the scenario proposal, the discussants had available to them an estimate of 
I likely consequences of the proposed actions, prepared by the Board of National 
\ Estimates, CIA, with State and DIA assistance, and concurred in by the U.S. 
I Intelligence Board. 

The national estimate agreed essentially with the proposal's assessment of 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnilm, SFeh. 1964-Jan. 1965 169 

Soviet and Chinese reactions and concluded ^ha^Hanoi's would vary with the 
intensity of the U.S./GVN actions. The national intelligence boards believed 
jthat Hanoi t^^jl5>rder the Viet Cong and Pathet Lao to refrain from dramatic 
/ new attacks, and might reduce the level of the insurrections for the moment" 
/ in response to U.S. force_de£loyrnents or^ GVN-USAF/FARMGATE attacks. 
The_ex|)ected DRV rationale, supported by Peking and Moscow, would be to 
< ^^k on^"a new^Genev^a^ Conference or UN action . . . [to] bring a cessation of 
I atfacks ' ' anH To stabilize communist gains in Vietnam^and Laos. Communist 
agitation of world opinion would be employed ctQ^nng^pn"^ If 
attacks on North Vietnam continued, the intelligence boards saw Hanoi intensify- 
ing its political initiatives, but also ^^siBly'TncreasmJ^ "the tempo of the insur- 
rections in South Vietnam and LaosTTfTheseTactTcs failed to produce a settle- 
ment "and North Vietnam be^an jto suffer considerable jHesU-uctio the boards 
estimated: . ./^ % ^.^ 

We incline to the view that [DRV leaders] woul d low £r their terms for 
a negotiating outcome; they would do so in the interests of preserving their 
regime and in the expectation of being able to renew the insurrections in 
South Vietnam and Laos at a later date. There would nevertheless be a 
significant danger that they would fight,_believing that the U.S. would 
stiTTnot be willing to undertake a major groun^) war, or that if it was 
could ultimately b e defeate d^ by the methods" which were successful against 
the French . ^ \ ^ / 

In its discussion of the problem otgpmpelTmgTlanoi to haltjthe VC insurgency,- 
the national estimate emphasized that this depended^n^ffecting the will of the 
DRV leaders. It stressed that the measures called for in the scenario "would 
not seriously affect communist capabilities to contjnue that insurrection," stating 
that "the primary sources of communist strength in South Vietnam are indige- 
nous." On fhe~otRer hand, it predicfedThat withdrawal of material assistance 
from North Vietnam would badly hurt the Pathet Lao capability. Because of 
the crucial importance of Hanoi's will, the estimate argued that the DRV "must 
understand that although the U.S. is not seeking the destruction of the DRV 
regime, the U.S. is fully prepared to bring ascending pressures to bear to 
persuade Hanoi to reduce the insurrections." But, while comprehending U.S. 
purposes in the early phase of the scenario actions, they may "tend increasingly 
to doubt the 1 imitejl character of U.S. aims" as the scale of the attacks increases. 
The report adds : 

Similarly, the retaliatory measures which Hanoi might take in Laos 
and South Vietnam might make it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to 
regard its objectives as attainable bx_iimited means. Thus difficulties of 
comprehension might increase on both sides as the scale of action mounted. 

3. Rejection of Scenario: "Use Force If Necessary" --^0 5 »^^-.<.-^ 

At its meeting on 25 IVTay, the ExCom apparendy decided no^ to retain the 
scenario approach in the courses of action it would recommend to the Presi- 
dent. At least, it abandoned the time-phasing aspects of the series of actions 
contained in the scenario proposal, and it made explicit its purpose not to embark 
on a series of moves "aimed at the use of force as an end in itself." The avail- 
able evidence is far from conclusive on the reasons why the scenario approach 
was cast aside, but it seems clear that the potential for entering into an escalating 

170 Gravel Edition /The 

tagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

conflict in which our limited objectives might become obscured weighed heavily 
in the decision. 

In addition to the evidence already cited, a strong indication of the ExCom's 
desire to avoid the possibility of escalation is contained in the draft memorandum 
prepared for President Johnson, as a result of the 25 May meeting. In this 
memorandum, it was recommended that the President decide: 

... that the U.S. will use selected and carefully graduated military 
force against North Vietnam, under the following conditions: (1) after 
appropriate diplomatic and political warning and preparation, (2) and 
unless such warning and. preparation — in combination with other efforts — 
should produce a sufficient improvement of nqn-Communist prospects in 
South Vietnam and in Laos to make military action against North Vietnam 

I The recommendation was based on an explicit assumption "that a decision to 
I use force if necessary, backed by resolute and extensive deployment, and con- 
jveyed by every possible means to our adversaries, gives the best present chance 
1^ ^voiding the actual use of such force." Reflecting the influence of the na- 
tion J intelligence boards' rationale concerning "U.S. preparatory and low-scale 
pZ-lion," the ExCom also stated the belief that "selective and carefully prepared 
I military action against North Vietnam will not trigger acts of terror and military 
} operations by the Viet Cong which would engulf the Khanh regime." What the 
ExCom meant by "selective and carefully prepared military actions" is suggested 
by its request, on the same day, for ICS views on the feasibility of telegraphing 
intended action through military deployments. 

Despite its abandonment of the paced scenario approach, the ExCom pro- 
posed that many of the actions incorporated in the scenario be undertaken. 
Although proposing a particular order for these actions, the committee suggested 
that the sequence may need to be modified in reaction to specific developments, 
especially in view of different choices available to the enemy. In addition to the 
Presidential decision, the recommended actions included: (1) communication 
of our resolve and limited objectives to Hanoi through the Canadian intermedi- 
ary; (2) conducting a high-level Southeast Asian strategy conTerence in Hono- 
lulu; (3) diplomatic initiatives at the UN to present the case for DRV aggres- 
sion; (4) formal and bilateral consultation with SEATO allies, including the 
question of obtaining allied force commitments; (5) seeking a Congressional 
Resolution in support of U.S. resistance to communist aggression in Southeast 
Asia; (6) periodic force deployments toward the region; and (7) an initial strike 
f against North Vietnam, "designed to have more deterrent than destructive im- 
1 pact" and accompanied by an active diplomatic offensive to restore peace in the 
area — including agreement to a Geneva Conference. Further, the ExCom recom- 
mended that in the execution of these actions, all functional and geographic ele- 
ments "should be treated as parts of a single problem: the protection of [all] 
Southeast Asia from further communist encroachment." 

If all of the decisions and actions contained in the draft memorandum were 
in fact recommended to the President, all of them were not approved immedi- 
f ately. It is doubtful that the President madejhe decision to use force if necessary, 
(since some advisers were still urging the same kind of decision on him in the 
[weeks to follow. The plan to convey a message to Hanoi by Canadian channels 
was carried out on June 18, but it may have been decided on already before the 
meeting, given the earlier negotiations with Ottawa. The President did approve 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 171 

the calling of a conference in Honolulu "to review for [his] final approval a series 
of plans for effective action" in Southeast Asia. U.S. policy toward Southeast 
Asia was explained by Ambassador Stevenson in a major UN speech on 21 May. 
He did not address the Security Council on this subject again until 6 August, 
after the Tonkin Gulf episode. It is doubtful if less publicized statements at the 
UN contained the "hitherto secret evidence" suggested in the ExCom sessions 
as "proving Hanoi's responsibility" before the world diplomats. It is likely that 
questions of consulting with SEATO allies, deploying additional forces to 
Southeast Asia, and requesting a congressional resolution were held in abeyance 
pending that meeting. 

One of the kinds of developments which the ExCom thought would necessitate 
a flexible approach to its proposed action sequence occurred prior to the Hono- 
lulu meeting. Its effect was to remove some of the "crisis management" pressure 
from further policy deliberations. On 27 May, the Polish Government proposed 
a conference format for Laos that avoided many of the undesirable features of 
the Geneva proposals which had been supported by communist governments in 
the past. After two days of deliberations, during which time Secretary Rusk de- 
parted for Nehru's funeral in New Delhi, a policy group composed of several 
ExCom members determined that the United States should attempt initially 
"to treat [the] Lao question separately from [the] SVN-NVN problem." Rea- 
soning that "if [a] satisfactory Lao solution [were] not achieved, [a] basis should 
have been laid for possible subsequent actions that would permit our dealing 
more effectively with NVN with respect [to] both SVN and Laos," the group 
decided to recommend to the President that he accept the Polish proposal. Inte- 
gral to the approach would be a "clear expression of U.S. determination . . . 
that U.S. [is] not willing [to] write off Laos to [the] communists," and assurances 
to Souvanna Phouma "that we would be prepared to give him prompt and direct 
military support if the Polish Conference was [sic] not successful." With respect 
to our larger objectives in Southeast Asia, the proposed discussions among 
representatives of Laos, the I.C.C. and the Geneva co-chairmen would have the 
advantage of permitting Souvanna to continue to insist upon his preconditions 
for any resumed 14-nation conference, and would avoid the issue of Vietnam. 


With the policy line and the courses of action for dealing with Laos deter- 
mined, and with the Laotian military situation having become somewhat stabi- 
lized, the Administration turned to the broader issues of its Southeast Asian 
policy. These were among the principal concerns of the Honolulu Conference, 
1-2 JuneJ[964. 

1. The Honolulu Conference: Defining the U.S. Commitment 

The Honolulu Conference was approached with the realization that the 
"gravest decisions are in front of us and other governments about [the] free 
world's interest in and commitment to [the] security of Southeast Asia." The 
State Department saw such decisions focusing on three "central questions": 
(1) Is the security of Southeast Asia vital to the United States and the Free 
World? (2) Are additional steps which carry risks of escalation necessary? (3) 
Will the additional steps accomplish our goals of stopping intrusions of Hanoi 
and Peking into South Vietnam? The Conference apparently began with the 
answer to the first question as a basic assumption. Again State: 

172 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

Our point of departure is and must be that we cannot accept [the] over- 
running of Southeast Asia by Hanoi and Peiping. 

In addition to considering specific proposals for improving conditions in South 
Vietnam (Administration officials entered the Conference with another assump- 
tion that "we must do everything in our power to stiffen and strengthen the 
situation in South Vietnam"), the discussions in Honolulu were intended to help 
clarify issues with respect to exerting pressures against North Vietnam. 

2. At Honolulu: Exerting Pressure on NVN 

In preparation for the conference, CINCPAC and COMUSMACV had been 
asked by ICS Chairman Taylor to develop their views on such questions as: 

( 1 ) What military actions might be taken in ascending order of gravity 
to impress Hanoi with our intention to strike NVN? 

(2) What should be the purpose and pattern of the initial air strikes 
against NVN? 

(3) What is your concept of the actions and reactions which may arise 
from the progressive implementation of CINCPAC 37-64 and 32-64? How 
may NVN and Communist China respond to our escalating pressures? 

(4) If at some point Hanoi agrees to desist from further help to VC & 
PL, how can we verify fulfillment? How long should we be prepared to 
maintain our readiness posture while awaiting verification? 

(5) What help should be sought from SEATO nations in relation to 

^ the situation (a) in Laos? (b) in SVN? 

f O'. 

Just prior to the conference, the ICS also submitted their views, to which 
General Taylor did not subscribe. Expressing concern over "a lack of definition" 
of U.S. objectives, the JCS asserted that it was "their first obligation to define a 
militarily valid objective for Southeast Asia and then advocate a desirable mili- 
tary course of action to achieve that objective." With its basis identified as "mili- 
tary considerations," they then made the recommendation that: 

... the United States should seek through military actions to accomplish 
■ destruction of the North Vietnamese will and capabilities -as necessary to 
j compel the Democratic Government of Vietnam (DRV) to cease providing 
p I support to the insurgencies in South Vietnam and Laos. Only a course of 
i action geared to this objective can assure that the North Vietnamese sup- 
port of the subversive efforts in Laos and South Vietnam will terminate. 

However, the JCS went on to note that "some current thinking appears to dis- 
miss the objective in favor of a lesser objective, one visualizing limited military 
action which, hopefully, would cause the North Vietnamese to decide to termi- 
nate their subversive support . . ." Drawing a distinction between destroying 
DRV ca^yiity to support the insurgencies and "an enforced changing of pol- 
icy .. . which, if achieved, may well bctepiporary," they stated their opinion 
that "this lesser objective" was inadequate for the current^situation. They agreed, 
however, to undertake a course of action to achieve this lesser objective as an 
( "initial measured' j^jy^-^l.- . Jc^^^. _^ .-^^j.^.,, ., ^ 

What the JCS proposed as this "initial measure" were a pair of sustained at- 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 173 

tacks to destroy target complexes directly associated with support of the com- 
munist efforts in Laos and South Vietnam. Military installations at Vinh, which 
served as a major resupply facility for transshipping war materiel into Laos, 
and a similar facility at Dien Bien Phu were recommended. In support of these 
operations, which would require U.S. participation to achieve "timely destruc- 
tion" as necessary to achieve the objectives, the JCS stated a need to demon- 
strate forcefully that our pattern of responses to Hanoi's aggression had changed. 
They argued: 

We should not waste critical time and more resources in another pro- 
tracted series of "messages," but rather we should take positive, prompt, 
and meaningful military action to underscore our meaning that after more 
than two years of tolerating this North Vietnamese support we are now 
determined that it will stop. 

Aside from the JCS, whose views were not shared by their spokesman at 
Honolulu, the main voices in support of the idea of attacking the North in 
early June 1964 seemed to come from Saigon. But this source of advocacy 
seemed to anticipate shprtterrn impacts on. Sauth^^^^ rather than ultimate 

effects on the DRV. OnJ^hejway to Honolulu, Secretary Rusk had talked with 
General Khanh, who argued that South Vietnam could not win against the 
Viet Cong without some military action outside its borders. In particular, the 
General urged clearing out the communist forces in eastern Laos, who might 
move across the border and attempt to cut South Vietnam in two, with the 
implication that GVN forces could carry~out The Task If given air support. He 
also favored attacks directly on North Vietnam, but said that they "should be 
selective and designed to minimize the chances of a drastic _^cornmunist re- 

At the conference's initial plenary session. Ambassador Lodge also argued 
in favor of attacks on the North. In answer to Secretary Rusk's query about 
South Vietnamese popular attitudes, which supported Hanoi's revolutionary 
aims, the Ambassador stated his conviction that most support for the VC would 
fade as soon as^ome "counter-terrorism measures" were, begun against the DRV. 
He urged "a selective bombing campaign against military targets in the North" 
and predicted this would "bolster morale and give the population in the South 
a feelin^jof^unity." When asked by Mr. McCone how the political differences 
among Vietnamese leaders might be overcome, he stated the opinion that "if we 
bombed Tchepone or attacked the_[N VN rnotor torpedo] boats and the Viet- 
namese people knew about it, this would tend to stimulate their morale, unify 
their efforts and reduce [their] quarreling." 

If other comments, either pro or con, were made at the plenary session about 
the desirability of attacking North Vietnam, they were not reflected in the 
record. General Westmoreland discussed the "military and security situation" 
in South Vietnam and apparently did not mention the potential impact of meas- 
ures against the North. Similar discussions of the military situations in Laos 
and Cambodia apparently did not include the subject either. The discussion of 
North Vietnam, as indicated by the record, was limited to assessments of the 
DRV's military capabilities, particularly its air defenses, and their implications 
for the feasibility of an air attack. Policy aspects of air operations against the 
North were not mentioned. 

On the second day of the conference, possible pressures to be applied against 
North Vietnam were a prominent subject. However, as reported by William 

174 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol III 

Bundy, the main context for the discussion was Laos — what might have to be 
done in the event the current diplomatic track failed or the military situation 
deteriorated. Not contemplated, it seems, were initiatives against the North to 
reHeve the current levels of pressure on Laos or South Vietnam. Rather, con- 
siderable attention was given to preliminary steps that would need to be taken 
in order to prepare for actions necessary within the context of a Laotian mili- 
tary contingency. 

One such step would be consultation with allies who might contribute to a 
ground force contingent needed for the defense of Laos. The UK and other 
SEATO nations were cited as particularly important contributors. The conferees 
agreed, however, that contingency preparations for Laos should be undertaken 
outside the SEATO framework. As Secretary Rusk pointed out, "Souvanna 
Phouma might well call on individual SEATO nations for help, but was less 
likely to call on SEATO as an organization." Besides, the French and Pakistani 
were expected to be obstructive and the Philippines Government was regarded 
as presenting a constant threat of untimely leaks. Consensus was reached that 
the starting point for our bilateral consultations should be Thailand, since that 
government's confidence in the sincerity of the U.S. commitment seemed par- 
ticularly needful of being shored up. At the meeting. Ambassador Martin 
echoed the themes which he had reported earlier in cables — that the Thais were 
not convinced that we meant to stop the course in Southeast Asia and probably 
would not participate in or permit allied troop build-ups in their country with- 
out firmer assurances than had been given in the past. 

Another preliminary step discussed by the conferees was the desirability of 
obtaining a_ Congressional resolution prior to wider U.S. action m~Southeast 
Asia. Ambassador Lodge questioned the need for it if we were to confine our 
actions to "tit-for-tat" air attacks against North Vietnam. However, Secretaries 
McNamara and Rusk and CIA Director McCone all argued in favor of the 
resolution. In support, McNamara pointed to the need to guarantee South Viet- 
nam's defense against retaliatory air attacks and against more drastic reactions 
by North Vietnam aod-Cornmunist China. He "added that it might be necessary, 
as the action unfolded ... to deployjs jnany asCseven divisions." Rusk noted 
that some of the military requirements might involve the calling^^P. reserves, 
always a touchy Congressional issue. He also stated that public' opinion on our 
Southeast Asian policy was badly divided in the United States at the moment 
and that, therefore, the President needed an affirmation oLsupport. 

Next, the discussion turned to present estimates of communist reaction to 
attacks on North Vietnam: , . ^ . , r a . ,wv^ 

^ ^Jb^^ fiJ^» ) 

General Taylor summarized the present Washington view, to the effect 
that there would certainly be stepped-up Viet Cong activity in South Viet- 
nam, Communist Chinese air might be sent to ^orth Vietjiam, Hanoi it- 
A ' self might ^end some ground forces south (though probably only on a 
limited scale), and there was the final possibility that the Communist Chi- 
nese would respond with significant military action. As to the last, he made 
clear that he did not visualize a "yellow horde" of Chinese pouring into 
Southeast Asia, and that air interdiction could have a significant effect in 
reducing the number of forces^the Communist Chinese could send down 
and support ... In any case, he said that the military judgment was that 
seyen^ground divisions would be needed if the Communist Chinese em- 
ployed their full capabilities in the dry season, and five divisions even in 
the wet season. The needed five-seven divisions could^come in part from 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 175 

the Thai and others, but a major share would have to be borne by the U.S. 
^-j Secretary McNamara said that befpre we undertook attacks against the 
/! North, we certainly had to be prepared to meet threats at the level stated 
/ by General Taylor. Mr. McCone agreed with this point, but when on to 
N say that there was a serious question about the effect of major deployments 
on Communist Chinese reactions. The intelligence community was in- 
clined to the view that the more, substantial the deployment, the ^^^^ 
the possib le chance of a dra stic C ommunist Chings e— Jeaction. General 
Taylor cornmented that undeFpresent plans it was not contemplated that 
we should have deployment of all the potentiallynecessary forces at the 
outset. We were thinking along the lines ofCS^Sl^^^^^o Jhe northern, part 
of South Vietnam, two to three brigades to Thailand, considerable naval 
deployments, and some alerting of other forces in the U.S. and elsewhere. 
Even this, however, added up to a significant scale of activity . . . 

Secretary McNamara noted that all this planning was on the basis that 
a really drastic communist reaction was possible, and was not based on 
any judgment that it was probable. The best current view was that ap- 
propriately lirnited attacks on the North would_«^bring in Communist 
Chinese air or North Vietnam or Comrnunis^t^Chinese ground forces. How- 
evefTTTwas still essential that we be prepared against these eventualities. 

Ambassador Lodge asked whether the Cornmunist Chinese could not in 
fact mount alrnost any number oLforces they^ General Taylor and 

Admiral Felt said they could not do so and support them to the extent 
required . . . Secretary McNamara then went on to say that the possi- 
bility of major ground action also led to a serious question of having to 
use nuclear weapons at some point. Admiral Felt responded emphatically 
that there was no possible way to hold o ff th e communists qn^ the gr ound 
without^the^se of tactical nucl ear weapons, and that it was essential that 
%f\/c< the cojTimanders be given the freedom to use these„as had been assumed 
under the various plans. He said^tha^without nuclear weapons the ground 
forcejiequjremenL^k'as and had always been completely out of reach. Gen- 
eral Taylor was more^oubtful as to the existence or at least to the degree 
of the nuclear weapon requjrement, and again the point was not really fol- 
lowed up. 

Secretary Rusk said that another possibility we must consider would be 
the Soviets stirring up trouble elsjewhere. We should do everything we 
could to mininnze this risk, but it too must be considered. He went on 
to stress the nuclear question, noting that in thejast ten years this had 
come to include the possibility of a nuclear exc^ange,~~wifir'air'tTiat this 

General Taylor noted that there was a danger of reasoning ourselves 
into inaction. From a military point of view, he said that the U.S. could 
function in Southeast Asia about as well as anywhere in the world except 
Cuba. Mr. McCone made the point that the passage of the Congressional 
^^•^^ resolution would in itself be an enormous ,deterrent> This led to brief dis- 
cusslorTorthe text of the resolution, which was /fea(3)by Mr^ Sullivan . . . 

Discussion therTslTTffed^to'wh^t the Viet Cong could do in South Viet- 
nam if we struck the North. General Westmoreland thought there was not 
a significant unused Viet Cong capability, but Ambassador Lodge thought 
there was a major capability for terrorism and even for military action 
against Saigon, and that in sum the Viet Cong 'could make Saigon unin- 

Z ^ — ^ 6V 

176 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

Finally, the conferees dealt with the crucial question of iiQW^oon the United 
States and the GVN would be prepared to engage in wider military actions 
should the need arise. For several reasons, the consensus seemed to be that 
such actions should be delayed for some time yet. "Secretary Rusk thought we 
should not be considering q^ujcJi action unless the Pathet Lao lunged toward 
the Mekong." Discussion yielded several things we could do in the interim to 
strengthen the current government position in Laos {i.e., re-equip Kong Le's 
neutralist forces as an aid to Phouma's FAR; back Souvanna's demand for pre- 
conditions before any reconvening of the Geneva Conference; support the RLAF 
T-28 operations). General Taylor pointed to the prior need to educate the 
American public regarding U.S. interests in Southeast Asia. Secretary McNa- 
mara thought this would require at least 30 days. 

Generals Taylor and Westmoreland then listed a number of military factors 
that affected the question of timing, although stating that these referred to "an 
optimum military posture": 

1. The additional Vietnamese aircraft would not be available until July 
for two squadrons and September for another. However, B-57's could be 
introduced at any time and operated on a FARMGATE basis. 

2. There were logistic factors, shipping requirements, and the call-up of 
some logistic reserve units involved in having five-seven divisions ready for 
action, and these would take two months to be sorted out properly. 

3. It was desirable if not essential to build up military manpower in 
South Vietnam. He would like to be in a position to have 12 battahons 
that could be freed for deployment along the Laos border. 

4. The rainy season was a factor precluding any substantial offensive in 
the panhandle area until mid-November. 

They added that General Khanh's political base was not as strong as we wished 
and that it might not be so until the end of the year. This factor was also cited 
by other conferees as being a reason for delay. 

3. The Need to Refine Plans and Resolve Issues 

Immediately following the Honolulu Conference, its Chairman, Secretary 
Rusk, reported to President Johnson, presumably making some recommenda- 
tions. Although a record of this discussion is not available, Ass't Secretary 
Bundy's brief to Rusk just prior to his White House meeting may provide a 
clue to the thrust of the Secretary's remarks. Citing a "somewhat less pessimis- 
tic estimate" of conditions in South Vietnam, the "somewhat shaky" but hope- 
ful situation in Laos, and the military timing factors reported above, Bundy 
counseled taking more time "to refine our plans and estimates." Criticizing 
CINCPAC's presentation on military planning, he stated that it "served largely 
to highlight some of the difficult issues we still have." These he identified as: 
"(1) the likely effects of force requirements for any significant operations against 
the [Laotian] Panhandle"; (2) the trade-off between the precautionary advan- 
tages of a major build-up of forces prior to wider action and the possible dis- 
advantages of distorting the signal of our limited objectives; (3) the sensitivity 
of estimates of communist reactions to different levels and tempos of a military 
build-up; and (4) the need for "more refined targeting and a clearer definition 
of just what should be hit and how thoroughly, and above all, for what ob- 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 111 

In particular, Bundy emphasized to Secretary Rusk the need for immediate 
efforts in the information and intelHgence areas. These were needed, he said, 
"both for the sake of refining our plans and for preparing materials to use for 
eventual support of wider action if decided upon" — particularly to support the 
diplomatic track in Laos. He called for "an urgent U.S. information effort" to 
"get at the basic doubts of the value of Southeast Asia and the importance of 
our stake there . . ." However, noting the problem of "handling the high degree 
of expectations flowing from the conference itself," Bundy recommended "care- 
ful guidance and consideration of high-level statements and speeches in the next 
two weeks" to assure that our posture appeared firm. 

Rusk was accompanied at the White House meeting by other high-ranking 
Honolulu conferees. Bundy's reactions to Honolulu were forwarded to Secretary 
McNamara, Mr. McCone and General Taylor prior to the meeting. Events 
which followed the late afternoon meeting of 3 June provide an indication of 
the discussion that probably occurred. 

4. The Aftermath of Honolulu 

The importance of combining appearances of a firm posture with efforts to 
reduce public doubts on U.S. interests in Southeast Asia apparently struck a 
responsive chord in the White House. In the military area, the President ap- 
parently recognized the need for more and better information, but did not 
convey a sense of urgency regarding its acquisition. Possibly just following the 
meeting, Secretary McNamara expressed his wish to discuss North Vietnamese 
targets and troop movement capabilities with the ICS on 8 June. The following 
day, he communicated interest to the Joint Staff in obtaining "facts and sta- 
tistics" on Haiphong harbor traffic; existing plans for mining the harbor; im- 
pacts of such operations on different import categories; and alternative DRV 
importation facilities. On the other hand, non-committing military actions which 
could improve our image in Southeast Asia were given immediate approval. 
On the same day he received the request for Haiphong mining information, the 
Director of the Joint Staff informed the Army of a McNamara directive calling 
for "immediate action ... by the Army to improve the effectiveness and 
readiness status of its materiel prestocked for possible use in Southeast Asia." 
Specifically, the Secretary ordered (1) augmenting the stockage at Korat, in 
Thailand, to support a ROAD Infantry Brigade and (2) giving first priority at 
the Okinawa Army Forward Depot to stocking non-air-transportable equip- 
ment required by an airlifted ROAD Infantry Brigade. In keeping with the 
Administration's current policy rationale, the augmentation of contingency war 
stocks in Thailand was given extensive press coverage. 

In non-military areas, the President apparently encouraged further examination 
of the vital issues which impacted on national commitment and public support. 
Soon after the 3 June meeting, work was begun under State Department guidance 
to assemble information in answer to some of the prevalent public questions on 
Southeast Asian involvement. For example, on 10 June, the Department of 
Defense was asked to furnish responses to 27 questions developed in State, as a 
fall-out of the discussions in Honolulu. Similar questions became a frequent focus 
for interdepartmental correspondence and meetings in the coming weeks. 
Paralleling this effort was an examination of the desirability of requesting a Con- 
gressional resolution. On the same day that OSD received State's request to 
furnish information, an interagency meeting was held to discuss the implications 
which a resolution would have for the U.S. policy position and the public 

178 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

rationale which its acceptance would demand. The relative advantages of having 
or not having a resolution were also considered. 

To supplement recommendations coming from Honolulu, the President ap- 
parently sought additional guidance to help sort out the alternatives available to 
him. Soon after receiving reports from the Honolulu conference, he sent a request 
to Walt Rostow to prepare a public statement for him, detailing a Governmental 
view of U.S. policy and commitments in Southeast Asia. As most likely ex- 
pected, the rationale and discussion which resulted took a more aggressive ap- 
proach than the prevailing views at Honolulu and were not used. In fact, Presi- 
dent Johnson did not deliver a major policy address during the coming weeks, 
relying on news conferences and speeches by other officials to state the official 
view. In contrast to the Rostow approach, his news conference of 23 June and 
Secretary Rusk's speech at Williams College, 14 June, emphasized the U.S. 
determination to support its Southeast Asian allies, but avoided any direct 
challenge to Hanoi and Peking or any hjnt of jntent to increase our military 

In addition, the President asked his advisers the basic question, "Would the of Southeast Asia necessarily fall if Laos and South Vietnam came under 
North Vietnamese control?" On 9 June, the Board of National Estimates, CIA, 
provided a response, stating: 

With the possible exception of Cambodia, it is likely that^np nation in 
the area would quickly succumb to communism as a result of the fall of 
Laos and South Vietnam. Furthermore, a continuation of the spread of 
communism in the area would not be inexorable, and any spread which 
did occur would take time — time in which the total situation might change 
in any of a number of ways unfavorable to the communist cause. 

The statement went on to argue that the loss of South Vietnam and Laos "would 
be profoundly damaging to the U.S. position in the Far East," because of its 
impact on U.S. prestige and on the credibility of our other commitments to 
contain the spread of communism. It did not suggest that such a loss would affect 
jhe wider U.S. interest in containing overt military attacks. Our island base, it 
argued, would probably still enable us to employ enough military power in the 
area to deter Hanoi and Peking from this kind of aggression. It cautioned, how- 
ever, that the leadership in Peking (as well as Hanoi) would profit directly by 
being able to justify its militant policies with demonstrated success and by having 
raised "its prestige as a leader of World Communism" at the expense of the more 
moderate USSR. 

5. Sources of Moderate Advice 

The strength of the Board's warning was weakened by two significant caveats. 
The first linked the estimate's less-than-alarmist view to a clearly "worst case": 

This memorandum assumes a clear-cut communist victory in these 
/ countries, i.e., a withdrawal of U.S. forces and virtual elimination of U.S. 
presence in Indochina, either preceded or soon followed by the establishment 
of communist regimes in Laos and South Vietnam. The results of a fuzzier,:> 
piecemeal victory, such as one staged through a "neutralist" phase, would 
probably be similar, though somewhat less sharp and severe. 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 179 

The second indicated that even in the worst case, the United States would retain 
some leverage to affect the outcome. They argued that "the extent to which indi- 
vidual countries would move away from the U.S. towards the communists would 
be significantly affected by the substance and manner of U.S. policy in the period 
following the loss of Laos and South Vietnam." 

The largely moderating tone of this estimate of the degree to which U.S. vital 
interests were in jeopardy in Southeast Asia tended to be reinforced by the views 
of the President's highest-level advisers on military matters. On his way to the 
Honolulu Conference, CJCS Taylor had forwarded without detailed comment the 
JCS recommendation for courses of action in Southeast Asia. On 5 June, after 
his return, he submitted highly critical comments, together with his preferred 
alternative to the JCS proposal, to Secretary McNamara. Five days later, the 
Secretary communicated his approval of General Taylor's views and no doubt 
conveyed the flavor, if not the details, of them to the White House. 

The nature of these views shared by the President's two top military advisers 
indicates a_rejection of the concept of trying to force the DRV to reverse its 
policies by striking North Vietnam with punishing blows. The JCS had stated 
the view that only! by initiating military actions designed to destroy the DRV's 
will and capabilities could we reasonably expect to compel it to terminate its 
support of the insurgencies in South Vietnam and Laos. But they had expressed 
their support of certain recommended limited actions as "an initial measure" 
directed toward causing the DRV "to decide to terminate their subversive sup- 
port." General Taylor argued that these two alternatives were not "an accurate 
or complete expression of our choices." He suggested three patterns from whic' 
the United States "may choose to initiate the attack on North Vietnam," in 
descending order or weight: 

a. A massive air attack on all significant military targets in North Vietnam 
for the purpose of destroying them and thereby making the enemy incapable 
of continuing to assist the Viet Cong and the Pathet Lao. 

b. A lesser attack on some significant part of the military target system in 
North Vietnam for the dual purpose of convincing the enemy that it is to 
his interest to desist from aiding the Viet Cong and the Pathet Lao, and, if 
possible, of obtaining his cooperation in calling off the insurgents in South 
Vietnam and Laos. 

c. Demonstrative strikes against limited military targets to show U.S. 
readiness_and_intent to pass to alternatives b or a above. These demonstra- 
tive strikes would have the same dual purpose as in alternative b. 

Stating a personal preference for the second, he noted the probability that 
"political considerations will incline our responsible civilian officials to opt for 
[the third] alternative." Therefore, his recommendation to the Secretary was that 
the JCS be asked to develop a strike plan based on the assumption that a decision 
was made to implement the third alternative. 

It is clear that the JCS not only preferred the larger attacks — directed against j 
both DRV capabilities and will — but intended that they be implemented in the 
near future. However, there is no indication that the CJCS urged prompt imple- 
mentation — even of the limited measures he linked with pressures against DRV 
will alone. Neither view was supported with an explanation of why it was ex- 
pected that the preferred course of action might be successful or with any 
analysis of what lesser results might lead to in the way of next steps by either 
side or of likely public reactions. 

180 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. HI 

6. The President Decides 

The Presidential reaction to these various patterns of advice and the dif- 
ferent assessments of national interest is not evident in the available documents. 
However, it can be surmised from the pattern of events surrounding the effort 
to obtain a_Congressional resolution. As will be recalled, a resolution was recom- 

' mended to the PresideiTt In Tate M as one of a series of events to include the 
Canadian's mission to Hanoi, the Honolulu Conference, and consultations with 
allies. It also fit in with the emphasis on public information and a firm posture 
that stemmed from the Honolulu meeting. Its intended purpose was to dramatize 
and make clear to other nations the firm jesolve of the United States Govern- 
ment in aii_election_year to support the President in taking whatever action was 
necessary to^sTsT) communist aggression in Southeast Asia. 

The week o f 8 June saw the planning for a Congressional resolution being 
brought to a head. By 10 June there was firm support for it on the part of most 

• agencies, despite recognition that obtaining it would require a vigorous public 
campaign, a likely requirement of which would be a "substantial increase in the 

' commitment of U.S. prestige and power to^success in Southeast Asia." There- 

'fore, at the meeting held on that day, five basic "disagreeable questions" were 
identified for which the Administration would have to provide convincing answers 
to assure public support. These included: (1) Does this imply a blank check for 
the President to go to_warJn Southeast Asia? (2) What kinds of force could he 
employ under this authorization? (3) What change in the situation (if any) re- 
quires the resolution now? (4) Can't our objectives be attained by means other 
than U.S. military force? (5) Does Southeast Asia mean enough to U.S. national 

By June_12, after a temporary diversion caused by Souvanna Phouma's with- 
drawal and reaffirmation of permission to continue the reconnaissance flights, 
much of the rationale in support of the resolution was formulated. Even though 
the Administrationrclid, npLex in the near future' to military action 

against North Vietnam," it recognized that significant changes in the local 
situations in both Laos and South Vietnam were beyond our control and could 
compel us to reconsider this position." Although our diplomatic track in Laos 
appeared hopeful, and our now firm escorted reconnaissance operations provided 
an image of U.S. resolve to complement the Polish negotiating scheme, we needed 
to be able to augment this posture in the event negotiations stalemated. If 
Souvanna were to become discouraged, or if Khanh were to view our efforts 
to obtain a Laotian settlement as a sign of willingness to alter our objectives, we 
would need additional demonstrations of our firmness to keep these leaders from 
being demoralized. Since additional military actions in Laos and South Vietnam 
did not hold much promise, actions or the strong threat of actions against the 
North might need to be considered. For these reasons, an imrnediate Congres- 
sional resolution was believed required as "a continuing demonstration of U.S. 
firmness and for complete flexibility in the hands of the Executive in the coming 
Apolitical mbhflTs^' 

A crucTaTThteragency meeting was held at the State Department on ISJune. 
to hold final discussions on the recommendation for a resolution to be sent to 
the President. The meeting was scheduled from the White House and included 
Secretaries Rusk and McNamara, their principal advisers on the subject, and 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 181 

McGeorge Bundy. On the afternoon of the meeting, a memorandum was dis- 
tributed by Bundy to the participants, which provided a rather clear picture of 
current White House attitudes toward the resolution — and by implication, of the 
President's judgment on the issue of preparing to take harder measures against 
North Vietnam. 

The memorandum dealt with one subject only — "actions that would remain 
open to us in varying combinations^in the event that we do not now decide on 
major military operations against North Vietnam and do not ^noW^ecide to seek 
a Congressional resolution." It then listed under the cafegoriM'of^^^'TTTittraiy and 
"political," those actions which were within an acceptable range of U.S. capa- 
bility, as follows: 

Possible military actions 

a. Reconnaissance, reconnaissance-strike, and T-28 operations in all 
parts of Laos. 

b. Small-scale reconnaissance strike operations, after/ apj)ropriate provoca- ^-^^ 
tion]i in I^rth. Vietnam (initially VNAF?) . ' " " ' . 

c. VNAF strike operations in Laotian corridors. '^'"^'ftii!^^^'^^^^'^^ 

d. Limited air and sea deployments toward Southeast Asia, anid stHrmofe '^^'^ 
limited ground troop movements. (Major ground force deployments seem 
more questionable, w ithou t a decision "to go north" in some form.) 

Political actions ( cJ-^j—^ — ^JCL.^ % /^^v.oJCw^ 

a. Internationally — a continued and increased effort to maximize support 
for our diplomatic track in Laos and our political effort in South Vietnam. 
Higher authority particularly desires a maximum effort with our allies to 
increase their real and visible presence in support of Saigon. ^^-^^ 

b. Laos — an intensive effort to sustain Souvanna and to restrain the 
right wing from any rash act against the French. Possible increase of direct 
support and assistance to Kong Le in appropriate ways. 

c. South Vietnam — rapid development of the critical province program 
and the information program, strengthening of country team, and shift of 

U.S. role from advice toward direction; emphatic and continued discourage- Jo^--^— 
ment of ^all coup plptsf^nergetic public support for Khanh Government. 

d. In the U.S. — continued reaffirmation and expanded explanation of the 
above lines of action, with opposition to both a^ressive^dyenjhjrejind wit^ 
drawal, and a clear open door to selected action of the sort included in 
above Possible military actions. 


The files contain no record of the discussion that occurred at the 15 June )^ 
meeting, but in this memorandum, the guidance^^rovided from the White House 
was evident: Unless drastic measures were nrovokeH^rom "the pthe^r^side," there 7 
were still a number of political and military^acTTons available which appeared 
to enable the United States to demonstrate an increasingly firm resistance without 
the need to risk major escalation. Moreover, such actions would not risk 
embarking on a depth or direction of commitment in which the United States 
would sacrifice policy flexibility. As the White House memorandum concluded, 
the actions were listed with the assu mption that ^efense of U.S. interests is 
possible, within these limits^over the next six months7'3 

182 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. HI 



Several forms of pressure were already being applied against North Vietnam 
by July of 1964. Moreover, contingency plans for other forms — should politi- 
cal and mihtary circumstances warrant a decision to use them — were continu- 
ally being adjusted and modified as the situation in Southeast Asia developed. 

The best known of these pressures was being applied in Laos. Since 21 May, 
U.S. aircraft had flown low-level reconnaissance missions over communist-occu- 
pied areas. In early June Premier Souvanna Phouma both gave and reaffirmed 
his permission for armed escort of these missions, which included the right to 
retaliate against hostile fire from the ground. This efi:ort was supplemented at 
the end of the month when the United States decided to conduct transport and 
night reconnaissance operations and furnish additional T-28 aircraft and muni- 
tions to support a Royal Laotian counteroffensive near Muong Soui. This deci- 
sion came in response to Souvanna's request, in which he equated the protec- 
tion of Muong Soui with the survival of the Laotian neutralist army. Air strikes 
conducted by the Royal Lao Air Force, with T-28s obtained from the United 
States, were later credited with playing a major role in the success of the RLG's 

Other actions obviously designed to forestall communist aggressive intentions 
were taken in different parts of Southeast Asia. In June, following the Honolulu 
strategy conference, State and Defense Department sources made repeated 
leaks to the press affirming U.S. intentions to support its allies and uphold its 
treaty commitments in Southeast Asia. U.S. contingency ground-force stockages 
in Thailand were augmented and publicly acknowledged. Revelations were made 
that USAF aircraft were operating out of a newly constructed air base at Da 
Nang. Moreover, the base was characterized as part of a network of new air 
bases and operational facilities being developed in South Vietnam and Thailand. 
On 10 July, the Da Nang base was the site of a well-publicized Air Force Day 
display of allied airpower, including aircraft from a B-57 wing recently ac- 
knowledged to have been permanently deployed to the Philippines from Japan. 

Less known were parallel actions taken within the Government. U.S. resolve 
jto resist aggression in Southeast Asia was communicated directly to North Viet- 
I nam by the newly appointed Canadian member of the International Control 
i Commission, Blair Seaborn. Stressing that U.S. ambitions were limited and its 
I intentions were "essentially peaceful," Seaborn told Pham Van Dong that the 
I padence QfJhe_lXS^ overnment wasj iot lirnitless. He explained that the United 
States was fully aware of the degree to which Hanoi controlled the Viet 

/ [Several paragraphs missing] 
The next DE SOTO Patrol did not occur until 31 July, on which the U.S.S. 
Maddox was restricted to a track not closer than_8_njm. off the North Vietnamese 
mainland. Its primary mission, assigned on 17 July, was "to determine DRV 
coastal activity along the full extent of the patrol track." Other specific intelli- 
gence requirements were assigned as follows: 

* A number of pages were missing from the manuscript for Subsections A, B, and C. 
However, the available material has been included, in spite of these gaps, to give the 
reader at least the flavor of the material contained therein. 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 183 

(a) location and identification of all radar transmitters, and estimate of 
range capabilities; (b) navigational and hydro information along the routes 
traversed and particular navigational lights characteristics, landmarks, buoys, 
currents and tidal information, river mouths and channel accessibility, (c) 
monitoring a junk force with density of surface traffic pattern, (d) sam.pling 
electronic environment radars and navigation aids, (e) photography of op- 
portunities in support of above. . . . 

Separate coastal patrol operations were being conducted by South Vietnamese 
naval forces. These were designed to uncover and interdict efforts ~to"Tmuggle 
personnel and supplies into the South in support of the VC insurgency. This 
operation had first been organized with U.S. assistance in December 1961; to 
support it a fleel_ojf _motorized junks was built, partially financed with U.S. mili- 
tary assistance funds. During 1964 these vessels operated almost continually in 
attempts to intercept communist seaborne logistical operations. As Secretary 
McNamara told Senate committees: 

In the first seven months of this year [1964], they have searched 149,000 
junks, some 570,000 people. This is a tremendous operation endeavoring to 
close the seacoasts of over 900 miles. In the process of that action, as the 
junk patrol has increased in strength they [sic] have moved farther and 
farther north endeavoring to find the source of the infiltration. 

In addiUon"^o these acknowledged activities, the' GVN)wa's also conducting a 
numBeT'of operations against North Vietnam to whicF it did not publicly admit. 
Covert operations were carried out by Sou^J/ietnameseCor^^h personnel and 
supported by U.S. training and logistical efforts. Outlined within OPLAN 34A, 
these operations had been underway theoretically since February but had experi- 
enced what the ICS called a "slow beginning." Despite an ultimate objective of 
helping "convince the North Vietnamese leadership that it is in its own self-in- 
terest to desist from its aggressive policies," few operations designed to harass 
the enemy were carried out successfully during the February-May period. Never- 
theless, citing DRV reactions tending "to substantiate the premise that Hanoi is 
expending substantial resources in defensive measures," the ICS concluded that 
the potential of the OPLAN 34A program remained high and urged its continua- 
tion through Phase II (June-September). — , 

[Several paragraphs missing] | 


Several of the pressuring measures recommended to the White House in May 
or June were implemented in conjunction with or in the immediate aftermath 
of naval action in the Tonkin Gulf. It is this fact and the rapidity with which 
these measures were taken that has led critics to doubt some aspects of the public 
account o^ the Tonkin incidents. It islilsd Ihis fact, together with later Adminis- 
tration assessments of the Tonkin Gulf experience, that give the incidents greater 
significance than the particular events seemed at first to warrant. 

1. The First Incident 

What happened in the Gulf? As noted earlier, U.S.S. MADDOX commenced 
the second DE SOTO Patrol on 31 July. On the prior night South ^Vietnamese 
coastal^ patrol, forces made a midnight attack, including an amphibious "com- 


184 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

mando" raid, on Hon Me and Hon Nieu Islands, about 19° N. latitude. At the 
time of this attack, U.S.S. MADDOX was 120-130 miles away just heading into 
waters off North Vietnam. On 2 August, having reached the northernmost point 
on its patrol track and having headed South, the destroyer was intercepted by 
three_North Vietnamese patrol boats. Apparently, these boats and a fleet of 
junks had moved into the area near the island to search for the attacking force 
and had mistaken Maddqxior a South Vietnamese escort vessel. (Approximately 
eleven h6urs~earlier, while on a northerly heading, Maddox had altered course to 
avoid the junk concentration shown on her radar; about six hours after that — 
now headed South — Maddox had altered her course to the southeast to avoid 
the junks a second time.) When the PT boats began Jhek_Jiigh-speed^ at her, 
at a distance of approximately 10 miles, the destroyer was 28 miles from the 
^coast ^ndjheading farther into international waters. Two of the boats closed to 
(^thjnL_5,^0Q_y_ards, launching one torpedo each. As they approached, Maddox 
fired on the boats with her 5-inch~batferies and altered course to avoid the tor- 
pedoes, which were observed passing the starboard side at a distance of 100 to 
200 yards. The third boat moved up abeam of the destroyer and took a direct 
5-inch hit; it managed to launch a torpedo which failed to run. All three PT 
boats fired 50-caliber machine guns at Maddox as they made their firing runs, 
and a bullet fragment was recovered from the destroyer's superstructure. The 
" attacks occurred in mid-afternoon, and photographs were taken of the torpedo 
boats as they attacked. 

Upon first report of the PT boats' apparently hostile intent, four F-8E aircraft 
were launched from the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga, many miles to the south, 
with instructions to provide air cover but not to fire unless they or Maddox were 
fired upon. As Maddox continued in a southerly direction, Ticonderoga's aircraft 
I attacked the two boats that had initiated the action. Both were damaged with 
IZuni rockets and 20mm gunfire. The third boat, struck by the destroyer's five- 
■ inch guns ... r~ .- ^ 

/ H^everal paragraphs missing] 
Vietnamese coastal targets — this time the Rhon River estuary aad the Vinh Sonh 
radar installation, which were bqmbarded on the night of ^ August: The more 
controversial of the two, this incident occurred under cover of darkness and 
seems to have been both triggered and described largely by radar and sonar 
images. After the action had been joined, however, both visual sightings and in- 
tercepted North Vietnamese communications confirmed that an attack by hostile 
patrol craft was in progress. No 

At 1940 hours, 4 August 1964 (Tonkin Gulf time), while "proceeding S.E. at 
best speed," Task Group 72.1 (Maddox and Turner Joy) radioed "RCVD INFO 
indicating attack by PGM P-4 iminent." Evidently this was based on an inter- 
cepted communication, later identified as "an intelligence source," indicating that 
"North Vietnamese naval forces had been ordered to attack the patrol." At the 
j time, radar contacts evaluated as "probable torpedo boats" were observed about 
36 miles to the northeast. Accordingly, the Task Group Commander altered 
I course and increased speed to avoid what he evaluated as a trap. At approximately 
!2Q35 hours, while west of Hainan Island, the destroyers reported radar sightings 
of three unidentified aircraft and two unidentified vessels in the patrol area. On 
receiving the report, Ticonderoga immediately launched F-8s and A-4Ds to pro- 
vide a combat air patrol over the destroyers. Within minutes, the unidentified 

I aircraft disappeared from the radar screen, while the vessels maintained a dis- 
tance of about 27 miles. Actually, surface contacts on, a parallel course had been 
shadowing the destroyers with radar for more than three hours. ECM contacts 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 185 

maintained by the C. Turner Joy indicated that the radar was that carried aboard ' 
DRV patrol boats. 

New unidentified surface contacts 13 miles distant were reported at 2134_ 
hours. These vessels were closing at approximately 30 knots on the beam^^and 
were evaluated as "hostile." Six minutes later (2140) Maddox_ojpea^d fire, and 
^I'V^t 4-^427 by which time two of the new contacts had closed to a distance of 1 1 
miles, aircraft from Ticonderogas CAP began their attacks. Just before this, one 
of the PT boats launched a torpedo, which was later reported as seen passing 
about 3p0 .feet off the j)ort beam, from aft to forward, of the C. Turner Joy. 
A searchlight beam was. observed to swing in an arc toward the C. Turner Joy 
by all of the destroyer's signal, bridge personnel. It was extinguished before it 
illuminated the ship, presumably upon detection of the approaching aircraft. 
Aboard the Maddox, Marine gunners saw what were believed to be cockpit lights 
of one or more small boats pass up the port side of the ship and down the other. 
After approximately an hour^^ciion, the destroyers reportedLiwjQ jenemy boats 
sunk and no damage or casualties suffered. 

In the meantime, two patrol craft from the initial surface contact had closed to 
join the action, and the engagement was described for higher headquarters— 
largely on the basis of the destroyers' radar and sonar indications and on radio 2I 
intercept information, ] 

[Several paragraphs missing] 

Returning from this session shortly after 1500, Secretary McNamara, along 
with Deputy Secretary Vance, joined with the JCS to review all the evidence 
relating to the engagement. Included in this review wasjt^he communications in- 
telligencejnformation which the Secretary re]ported, containing Isfbfth Vietnamese ' 
reports that (1) their vessels were engaging the destroyers, and (2) thej had lost 
two^raft inj:he fight. In the meantime, however, messages had been relayed to 
the Joint Staff indicating considerable confusion over the details of the attack. 
The DE SOTO Patrol Commander's message, expressing doubts about^ earlier ^-^-'^^^ 
evidence of a large-scale torpedo attack, arrived sometirne after ij^ Jhours. < [ oJ^"^ '^ 
Considerably later (it was not sent to CINCPACFLT until 1447JE0T)',^nother ^ ' 
message arrived to the effect that while details of the action were still confu ^ yig . 
the commander of Task Group 72.1 was certain that the ambush . was gdnume^^^^ 
He had interviewed the personnel who sighted the boat's cockpit lights TOising^ ^ 
near the Maddox, and he had obtained a report from the C. Turner Joy that two ' " 
torpedoes were pbserved passing nearby. Accordingly, these reports were dis- 
cussed by telephone with CINPAC, and he was instructed by Secretary McNa- 
mara to make a careful check of the evidence and ascertain whether there was 
any_doubt_^ concerning the occurrence of an attack. CINCPAC called the JCS 
at least twice more, at 1723 and again at 1807 hours, to state that hejwas j:pn- 
vinced, on the basis of "additional information" that the attacks had taken place. 
At the time of the earlier call Secretary McNamara and the JCS were discussing 
possible force deployments to follow any reprisals. On the occasion of the first 
call, the Secretary was at the White House attending the day's second NSC meet- | 
ijig. Upon being informed of CINCPAC's call, he reports: 

I spoke to the Director of the Joint Staff and asked^him to make certain ^ 
that the Commander in Chief, Pacific was wilTing to stat^tharthe atlack 
had taken place, and therefore that he was free to release the Executive 
Order because earlier in the afternoon I had told him that under no circum- 
stances would retaliatory action take place until we were, to use my words, 
'damned^ure that the attacks had taken place.' 

186 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

At the meeting of the National Security Council, proposals to deploy certain 
increments of OPLAN 37-64 forces to the Western Pacific were discussed, and 
the order to retaliate against North Vietnamese patrol craft and their associated 
facilities were confirmed. Following this meeting, at 1845, the President met with 
16 Congressional leaders from both parties for a period of 89 minutes. Report- 
edly, he described the second incident in the Gulf, explained his decisions to 
order reprisals, and informed the legislators of his intention to request a formal 
statement of CongressionaV-supporf for these decisions. On the morning following 
the meeting, The Washington'Post earned a report that none of the Congressional 
leaders present at the meeting had raised objections to the course of action 
planned. Their only question, the report stated, "had to do with how Congress 
could show its agreement and concern in the crisis." 

[Several paragraphs missing] 
increase pressures for ah international conference or that the DRV was testing 
U.S. reactions to a contemplated general offensive — have lost some credibility. 
Subsequent events and DRV actions have appeared to lack any consistent rela- 
tionship with such motives. Perhaps closer to the mark is the narrow purpose of 
prompt retaliation for an embarrassing and well-publicized rebuff by a much- 
maligned enemy. Inexperienced in modern naval operations, DRV leaders may 
have believed that under coyer of darkness it would be possible to even the score 
or to provide at least a psycfiologfcal vTctory by severely damaging a U.S. ship. 
Unlike the first incident, the DRV was ready (5 August) with a propaganda blast 
denying its own provocation and clain^ing the destruction of U.S. aircraft. Still, 
regardless of motive, there is little question but that the attack on the destroyers 
was (ieliberate. Having followed the destroyers for hours, their course was well 
known to the North Vietnamese naval force, and its advance units were laying 
ahead to make an ambushing beam attack fully 60 miles from shore. 

The reality of a North Vietnamese attack on 4 August has been corroborated 
by both visual and technical evidence. That it may have been deliberateiy .pro- 
voked by the United States is belied to a considerable degree by circumstantial 
evidence. Operating restrictions for the DE SOTO Patrol were made more strin- 
gent following the first attack. The 11 n.m., rather than 8 n.m., off-shore patrol- 
'"g track indicates an intention to avoid — not provoke — further contact. On 4 
^bruary the rules of engagement were modified to restrict "hot pursuit" by the 
U.S. ships to no closer than 1 1 n.m. from the North Vietnamese coast; aircraft 
were to pursue no closer than 3 n.m. Given the first attack, the President's aug- 
mentation of the partol force was a normal precaution, particularly since both 
Ticonderoga and C. Turner Joy were already deployed in the immediate vicinity 
as supporting elements. Moreover, since the augmentation was coupled with a 
clear statement of intent to continue the patrols and a firm warning to the DRV 
that repetition would bring dire consequences, their addition to the patrol could 
be expected to serve more as ajdeterrent than a provocation. 

The often alleged "poised" condition of the U.S. reprisal forces was anything 
but extraordinary. U.S.S. Constellation was well out of the immediate operating 
area as the patrol was resumed on 3 August. In fact, one reason for delaying the 
launching of retaliatory air strikes (nearly 1 100 hours, 5 August — Tonkin Gulf 
time) was to permit Constellation to approach within reasonaEle range of the 
targets. Target lists from which to make appropriate selections were already avail- 
)able as a result of routine^cojptin^ency planning accomplished in June and July. 
In preparation for the resumed DE SOTO Patrofof 3-5 August, the patrol track 
was moved farther north to make clearer the sej)aration between it and the 34-A 
operations. The ways in which the events of the second Tonkin Gulf incident 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964— Jan. 1965 187 

came about give little indication of a deliberate provocation to provide oppor- 
tunity for reprisals. 

2. Broadening the Impact 

[Several paragraphs missing] 
bomber squadrons have been transferred from the United States into advance 
bases in the Pacific. Fifthly, an antisubmarine task force group has been 
moved into the South China Sea. 

It is significant, relative to the broader purpose of the deployments, that few 
of these additional units were removed from the Western Pacific when the im- 
mediate crisis subsided. In late September the fourth attack aircraft carrier was 
authorized to resume its normal station in the Eastern Pacific as soon as the 
regularly assigned carried completed repairs. The other forces remained in the 
vicinity of their August deployment. 

Other actions taken by the Administration in the wake of Tonkin Gulf were 
intended to communicate to various audiences the depth and sincerity of the 
U.S. commitment. On the evening of 4 August, in conjunction with his testing 
of Congressional opinion regarding reprisal action, President Johnson disclosed 
his intention to request a resolution in support of U.S. Southeast Asian pohcy. 
This he did through a formal message to both houses oa.5„ August. Concurrently, 
identical draft resolutions, the language^ ojjwhich had been prepared by execu- 
tive aggncies, were introduced in the Senate by J. William Fulbright (D., Ark.) 
and in the House by Thomas E. Morgan (D., Pa.) and co-sponsored by bi- 
partisan leadership. Discussed in committee on 6 August, in response to testi- 
mony by leading Administration officials, the resolution wa¥^"assed the following 
day — by votes of 88 to 2 in the Senate and 416 to in the House. ^ "^""^ 

Despite the nearly unanimous votes of support for the Resolution, Congres- 
sional opinions varied as to the policy implications and the meaning of such y ^ ^ 

support. The central belief seemed to be that the occasion necessitated demon- j 

strating the nation's unity and collective will in support of the President's action^** 
and affirming U.S. determination to oppose furthej aggression, However, beyond 
that theme, there was a considerable variety of opinion. For example, in the 
House, expressions of support varied from Congressman Laird's argument, that 
while the retaliation in the Gulf was appropriate such actions still left a policy 
to be developed with respect to the^Jand war^ in Southeast Asia, to the more 
reticent viewpoint of Congressman Alger. The latter characterized his support as 
being primarily for purposes of showing unity and expressed concern over the 
danger of being dragged into war by "other nations seeking our help." Several 
spokesmei' stressed that the Resolution did not)constitjjte a declaration of war, ^ 
did not abdicate Congressional responsibility for determining national policy --.yyf-^^' 
comrnltmeivts, aiid_d^^ give the President carte blanche to involve the nation 
in a major Asian war. 

STmttaf expressions were voiced in the senior chamber. For example. Senator 
Nelson sought assurances that the resolution would not tend to commit the 
United States further than . . . ^ i 

[Several paragraphs missing] j 
addition to repeating points made earlier, Seaborn's second message conveyed 
the U.S. Government's uncertainty over DRV intentions in the 4 August attack 
and explained that subsequent U.S. deployments of additional airpower to South 
Vietnam and Thailand were "precautionary." In addition, the new message 
stressed: (1) that the Tonkin Gulf events demonstrated that "U.S. public and 

188 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol III 

official patience" was wearing thin; (2) that the Congressional Resolution reaf- 
firmed U.S. determination "to continue to oppose firmly, by all necessary means, 
DRV efforts to subvert and conquer South Vietnam and Laos"; and (3) that 
"if the DRV persists in its present course, it_can expect to suffer the conse- 

' THlTs, in the immediate aftermath of the provocation handed the U.S. Govern- 
jment in the Tonkin Gulf, the Administration was able to carry out most of the 
actions recommended by its principal officials early in the summer. By the same 
token, it was reducing the number of unused measures short of direct military 
' action that had been conceived as available for exerting effective pressure on the 
DRV. In effect, as it made its commitments in Southeast Asia clearer it also 
deepened them, and in the process it denied itself access to some of the uncom- 
mitting options which it had perceived earlier as offering policy flexibility. Mean- 
while, other events were also having the effect of denying options which had 
been considered useful alternatives to strikes against the North. 
C. 1. [Title and several paragraphs missing] 

over Southeast Asia and the likelihood that back-corridor discussions of the Viet- 
namese problem would be an almost inevitable by-product. In time such a pro- 
cedure might be useful, but for the balance of 1964 it was to be avoided in 
order to promote GVN stability and encourage a more vigorous GVN war 

The pressure for a Geneva-type conference had been building ever since the 
resumption of fighting in Laos in May. The chief protagonist in the quest for 
negotiations was France, who first proposed reconvening the 14-Nation Con- 
ference to deal with the crisis on 20 May. What made French policy so danger- 
ous to U.S. interests, however, was that its interest in a Geneva solution applied 
to Vietnam as well. On 12 June, DeGaulle publicly repeated his neutralization 
theme for all Indo-China and called for an end to all foreign intervention there; 
i; on 23 July he proposed reconv^nlngJlie39^54 G Conference to deal with the 

problems of Vietnam. 
\ The Soviet Union's return to the 14-Nation formula in July (it had endorsed 
I the original French proposal before indicating willingness to support the 6-Nation 
I approach) indicated solidarity in the communist camp. The^call was endorsed by 

!' Njorth Vietnam on the following day. Communist China first announced support 
for a 14-Nation Conference (on Laos) on 9 June, repeating this through notes 
to the co-chairman calling on the 13th for an "emergency meeting." On 2^ August, 
the Chinese urged the USSR not to carry out its threat to abandon its co-chairman 
role, apparently viewing such a development as jeopardizing the possibilities for 
a Geneva settlement. 

|\ Great Britain also urged the Russians to stay on, and during the last days of 
July it attempted to make arrangements in Moscow to convene a 14-Nation as- 
I sembly on Laos. The negotiations failed because Britain insisted on Souvanna's 
I prerequisite that the communists withdraw from positions taken in May and was 
unable to gain Soviet acquiescence. However, U.S. leaders were aware that 
I Britain's support on this point could not be counted on indefinitely in the face 
^ of increasing pressure in the direction of Geneva. 

In the meantime, however, Laotian military efforts to counter the communist 
threat to key routes and control points west of the Plaine des Jarres were showing 
great success. As a result of a counteroffensive (Operation Triangle), govern- 
ment forces gained control of a considerable amount of territory that gave prom- 
ise of assuring access between the two capitals (Vientiane and Luang Prabang) 


for the first time in three years. 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 189 

In effect, the government's newly won control of territory and communication 
routes in central Laos created a new and more favorable balance of power in 
that country, which in the perceptions of the administration should not be 

[Several paragraphs missing] 
firmness in the event negotiating pressure should become compelling. 

Reactions to this tentative policy change were unfavorable. It was seen as 
likely to have a demoralizing impact on the GVN. It was also seen as possibly 
eroding the impression of strong U.S. resolve, which the reprisal air strikes were 
belieyed^ to have created. For example, Ambassador Taylor cabled: 

. . . rush Ja conference table would serve to confirm to CHICOMS that 
U.S^ retaliation for destroyer attacks was transient phenomenon and that 
firm CHICOM response in form of commitment to defend NVN has given 
U.S. "paper tiger" second thoughts. . . . 

In Vietnam sudden backdown from previously strongly held U.S. posi- 
tion on [Plaine des Jarres] withdrawal prior to conference on Laos would 
have potentially disastrous effect. Morale and will to fight and particular 
willingness to push ahead with arduous pacification task . . . would be 
undermined by what would look like evidence that U.S. seeking to take 
advantage of any slight improvement in non-Communist position as excuse 
<far^xtricating itselj from Indo-China via Lconfe^^^ - • • ^ Ft^ 

~^TJrider^Tfcumstances, we see very little hope that results of such a con- 
ference would be advantageous to us. Moreover, prospects of limiting it to 
consideration of o nly Lao tian problem appear at this time juncture to be 
dimmer than ever. ... 

2. Concern Over Tonkin Reprisal Signals 

Contained in Ambassador Taylor's views was yet another of the Administra- 
tion's reflections on the impact of the Tonkin Gulf incidents. Officials developed 
mixed feelings regarding the effect of the Tonkin reprisals for signaling firm U.S. 
commitments in Southeast Asia. On one hand, it was conceded that the reprisals 
and the actions which accompanied them represented the most forceful expres- 
sion of U.S. resolve to date. Improvements were perceived in South Vietnamese 
morale, and the combination of force and restraint demonstrated was believed 
effective in interrupting communist momentum and forcing a reassessment of 
U.S. intentions. On the other hand, they reflected concern that these effects 
might not last and that the larger aspects of U.S. determination might still be 

Several officials and agencies indicated that our actions in the Tonkin Gulf 
represented only one step along a continually demanding route for the United 
States. They expressed relief that if a persuasive impression of firmness were to 
be created relative to the general security of Southeast Asia, [words illegible] 

It should be remembered that our retaliatory action in Gulf of Tonkin 
is in effect an isolated U.S.-DRV incident. Although this has relation . . . 
to [the] larger problem of DRV aggression by subversion in Viet-Nam and 
Laos, we have not (repeat not) yet come to grips in a forceful way with 
DRV over the issue of this larger and much more complex problem. 

Later, he decribed a need for subsequent actions that would convey to Hanoi 
that "the operational rules with respect to the DRV are changing." Assistant 

190 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

Secretary of State Bundy believed that Hanoi and Peking had probably been 
convinced only "that we will act strongly where U.S. force units are directly 
involved . . . [that] in other respects the communist side may not be so per- 
suaded that we are prepared to take stronger action. . . ." He saw the need for 
a continuous "combination of military pressure and some form of communica- 
tion" to cause Hanoi to accept the idea of "getting out" of South Vietnam and 
Laos. CINCPAC stated that "what we have not done and must do is make plain 
to Hanoi and Peiping the cost of pursuing their current objectives and impeding 
ours. . . . Our actions of August 5 have created a momentum which can lead 
to the attainment of our objectives in S.E. Asia. ... It is most important that 
we not lose this momentum." The JCS urged actions to "sustain the U.S. advan- 
tage [recently] gained," and later cautioned: "Failure to resume and maintain a 
program of pressure through military actions . . . could signal a lack of re- 

What these advisors had in mind by way of actions varied somewhat but only 
in the extent to which they were willing to go in the immediate future. Bundy 
stressed that policy commitments must be such that U.S. and GVN hands could 
be kept free for military actions against DRV infiltration routes in Laos. Ambas- 
sador Taylor, CINCPAC and the JCS urged prompt air and ground operations 
across the Laotian border to interrupt the current (though modest) southward 
flow of men and supplies. Both Taylor and CINCPAC indicated the necessity of 
building up our "readiness posture" to undertake stronger actions — through 
additional deployments of forces and logistical support elements and strengthen- 
ing of the GVN political base. 

The mood and attitudes reflected in these viewpoints were concrete and dra- 
matic expressions of the increased U.S. commitment stemming from the Tonkin 
Gulf incidents. They were candidly summed up by CINCPAC in his statement: 

. . . pressures against the other side once instituted should not be re- 
laxed by any actions or lack of them which would destroy the benefits of 
the rewarding steps previously taken. . . . 

Increasingly voiced by officials from many quarters of the Administration and 
from the professional agencies were arguments which said, in effect, now that we 
have gone [words missing] go no further; 

[Several paragraphs missing] 
destruction of specific targets by aerial bombardment or naval gunfire. They 
could be supported by such non-destructive military actions as aerial reconnais- 
sance, harassment of civil aviation and maritime commerce, mock air attacks, 
and timely concentrations of U.S. or allied forces at sea or near land borders. 
Following a line of reasoning prevalent in the Government during the early 60's, 
Rostow observed that a target government might well reduce its insurgency 
supporting role in the face of such pressures because of the communists' pro- 
verbial "tactical ffexibility." 

The thesis was subjected to a rather thorough analysis in OSD/ISA and co- 
ordinated with the Department of State. The nature of this review will be dis- 
cussed on later pages and in a different context. 

3. Accompanying Pause in Pressures 

The foregoing policy assessments were conducted in an atmosphere relatively 
free of even those pressure measures that preceded the Tonkin Gulf crisis. Since 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964— Jan. 1965 191 

the force deployments of 6 August, little military activity had been directed at the 
DRV. U-2 flights over North Vietnam and reconnaissance of the Laotian Pan- 
handle were continued. Military operations within Laos were limited to the con- 
solidation of gains achieved in Operation Triangle. A deliberate stand-down was 
adopted for all other activities — including DE SOTO Patrols and the GVN's 
covert harassing operations. The purpose of this "holding phase," as it was called, 
was to "avoid actions that would in any way take the onus off the Communist side 
for [the Tonkin] escalation." 

However, during the "holding phase" some of the administrative impediments 
to wider military action were cleared away. One measure that was taken was 
to relax the operating restrictions and the rules of engagement for U.S. forces in 
Southeast Asia. This was accomplished in response to JCS urging that attacking 
forces not be permitted sanctuaries from which to regroup and perhaps repeat 
their hostile acts. Prior rules had not permitted pursuit of hostile aircraft outside 
South Vietnam or authorized intercept of intruders over Thailand. Under the re- 
vised rules of 15 August 1964, U.S. forces were authorized to attack and destroy 
any vessel or aircraft "which attacks, or gives positive indication of intent to 
attack" U.S. forces operating in or over international waters and in Laos, to 
include hot pursuit into the territorial waters or air space of North Vietnam and 
into the air space over other countries of Southeast Asia. "Hostile aircraft over 
South Vietnam and Thailand" could be engaged as well and pursued into North 
Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. 

Another prerequisite to wider military action that was accomplished was the 
combined GVN-U.S. planning for cross-border ground operations. By 16 August, 
this had proceeded to such an extent that COMUSMACV believed it necessary 
to seek approval of the concept. MACV made the request despite explicit com- 
ment that the concept was "an overly ambitious scheme." Presumably, he con- 
sidered it likely to be ineffective militarily, but perhaps important in stimulating 
more vigorous GVN efforts. Whatever his particular reasons at the time, MACV 
repeated the recommendations later in the month as part of several measures to 
be taken inside and outside South Vietnam. These were designed "to give the 
VC a bloody nose," to steady the newly reformed South Vietnamese government, 
and to raise the morale of the population. However, the earlier MACV cable 
had already acknowledged what must have been one of the Administration's 
key inhibitions against undertaking cross-border actions: General Westmoreland 
stated, "It should be recognized that once this operation is initiated by the GVN, 
U.S. controls may be marginal." 

The period of the "holding phase" was also a period of significant develop- 
ments within South Vietnam. Ambassador Taylor's initial report (10 August) 
made clear that the political situation was already precarious, giving Khanh only 
a 50-50 chance of staying in power and characterizing the GVN as ineffective 
and fraught with conflicting purposes. In Taylor's view, the leadership in Saigon 
showed symptoms of "defeatism" and a hesitancy to prosecute the pacification 
campaign within South Vietnam. Meanwhile, however, its popular support in 
the countryside seemed to be directly proportional to the degree of protection 
which the government provided. In view of this shaky political base, General 
Khanh seized upon the occasion of post-Tonkin euphoria — apparently_witli Am- 
bassador Tayjpr^ encouragement — to acquire additional executive authority. On S 
7 August, announcing the necessity for certain "emergency" powers to cope 
with any heightened VC activity, he proclaimed himself President and pro- 
mulgated the Vung Tau Charter. This action, which gave him virtually dictatorial 
power over several aspects of South Vietnamese life, met with hostile reactions. 

192 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

In late August, Khanh's _authority was challenged in the streets of Saigon, Hue 

pressures primarily, he resigned his recently assumed post as President and 
promised that a national assemblage would be called to form a more popularly 
based government. On 3 September, Khanh returned to assume the premiership, 
but clearly with weaker and more conditional authority than before the govern- 
ment crisis. 

Meanwhile, as the GVN's lack of cohesion and stability was being demon- 
strated, the infiltration of communist forces into South Vietnam may have been 
on the increase. At least, belief in an increase in the rate of this infiltration appar- 
ently gained currency in various U.S. agencies at this time. The documents avail- 
able to thi^ writer from the period neither refute nor substantiate the increase, 
but several of them contained references to this perception. For example, a State 
Department memorandum, dated 24 August, acknowledged a "rise and change 
in the nature of infiltration in recent months." Later analyses confirmed that 
increases had taken place, but the precise period when this [words illegible]. 

Possibly influencing the judgments of August was the fact that increased com- 
munist movement of men and supplies to the South was expected, resulting in 
part from a DIA assessment (7 August) of the most likely DRV reactions to 
the Tonkin reprisals. Moreover, the State Department's analysis of next courses 
of action in Southeast Asia had made "clear evidence of greatly increased in- 
filtration from the North" an explicit condition for any policy judgment that 
"systematic military action against DRV" was required during the balance of 
1964. And leading officials from several agencies were beginning to feel that 
such action might be inevitable. 

The combined effects of the signs of increased VC infiltration and of con- 
tinuing upheaval in Saigon caused great concern in Washington. The central per- 
ception was one of impending chaos and possible failure in South Vietnam. 
.Among several agencies, the emerging mood was that some kind of action was 
(urgently needed — even if it had the effect merely of improving the U.S. image 
j prior to pulling out. It was this mood that prevailed as the period of "pause" 
I drew to a close. 

D. Next Courses of Action 

By early September a genexaLcqnsensus had developed among high-level Ad- 
ministration officials that some form of additional and continuous pressure should 
I be exerted against North Vietnam. Though Laos was relatively stabilized, the 
situation there was recognized as dependent ultimately on the degree of success 
achieved in solving the problems of Vietnam. Pacification efforts within South 
Vietnam were regarded as insufficient by themselves to reverse the deteriorating 
trends in that country. As a result, officials from both civilian and military 
agencies were anxious to resume and to extend the program of military actions 
against communist forces outside its borders. 

1. Strategy Meeting In September 

How to go about this was a problem of great concern to top-level officials 
(the President, Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, General Wheeler, Am- 
bassador Taylor, CIA Director McCone) as they assembled in Washington on 
^7 September. The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss with Ambassador 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 193 

Taylor future . courses of U.S. and GVN action, particularly as related to the 
implications of the recent political upheaval in Saigon. 

The alternatives presented for discussion were based largely on responses to 
the tentative analysis circulated by the State Department in mid-August. Replies 
from CINCPAC and the Saigon and Vientiane embassies had been circulated, 
and they provided the basis for a number of questions which Ambassador Taylor's 
party was asked to be ready to discuss. JCS reactions to the analysis and to the 
earlier replies were submitted to the Secretary of Defense with the specific intent 
that they be considered at the meeting and presumably were passed to other 
participating agencies. OSD/ISA views were prepared by Assistant Secretary 
McNaughton on 3 September and were known at least to Assistant Secretary of 
State _33undy. [Doc. 188] 

Just prior to the meeting, the JCS urged that General Wheeler, their Chairman, 
prop ose a co urse of action involving air strikes against targets in North Vietnam 
appearing on the JCS-approved, 94-target list. This kind of action had been 
recommended before — most recently on 26 August, in response to the Depart- 
ment of State analysis — as a means of "destroying the DRV will and capabilities, ^ 
as necessary, to continue to support the insurgencies in South Vietnam and _ 
A Laos." What made this proposal particularly significant was that it called for ! ? 
deliberate attempts to provok^ the DRV intq^ taking action which could then be j "^^^xx, 
answered by a systematic U.S. air campaign. According to the JCS scheme,^he I c^^. 
campaign "would be continuous and in ascending severity," with its tempo and\^ 
intensity varied as required by enemy reactions. Targets would eventually include 
airfields, bridges, railroads, and military installations. 

Whether or not or in what form General Wheeler presented this proposal to 
the assembled officials on T^^September is not indicated in the documentary 
sources available. The JCS belief in the necessity of bombing North Vietna n was ^3^^^ 
discussed, as was some of their rationale. Made explicit, for example, was their Cor/i/"-' 
argument that there was no reason to delay the bombing since (in their view) 
the situation in South Vietnam would only Fecome worse. That the idea of de- ^ 
liberately^prqvoking a DRV reaction was discussed in some form is indicated in 
a recordl^f the consensus arrived at in the discussigns. [Doc. 191] However, the J.^.^x' 
JCS were not_the_Qnly officials who favored such an idea. Assistant Secretary ! f/^'\ 
I McNjLUghton's "Plan of Action" (3 September 1964) also called for actions that| ^ 
/ "should be likely at some point to provoke a^ military DRV response." The latter, | 
I in turn, "should be likely to provide good grounds for us to escalate if we wished." ^ 

The principal conferees did not believe that deliberately provocative actions 
should be undertaken "in the immedia te future while the GVN is still struggling 
to its feet." However, they apparently reached a consensus that they rnight recom- 
mend such actions — "depending on GVN progress and Communist reaction in 
the meantime" — by ear ly October. 

The reasons cited for Iheir "opposition to provocative acts were also applied ^ , 
in rejecting proposals for an imjnediate bombing campaign. The GVN was 
expected to be too weak for the United States to assume the "deliberate risks of | 
escalation that would involve a major role for, or threat to, South Vietnam." In 
the discussion, Mr. McCone observed that undertaking a sustained attack on , 
the DRV would be very dangerous, due to the weakness and unpredictability of ^ 
the political base in South Vietnam. Secretary Rusk stated the view that every 
ni[eans_sh_Qnt_oi bombing must be exhausted. Secretary McNamara affirmed his 
understanding that "we are not acting more strongly because there is a clear 
hope of strengthening the GVN." But he went on to urge that the way be kept 
open for stronger actions even i£4he GVN did not improve or in the event the 

/ 194 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill a->^ 

war were widened by the communists. It is interesting to note that the President 
''^ asked specifically, "Can we really strengthen the GVN?" ^ l-^^' 

''^ Even though the principals did noLaccept the ICS proposal and apparendy did 
not agree with their assessment of the chances for improvement in South Vietnam, 
^ they did indicate accord with the JCS sense of the gravity of the U.S. predicament. 
,* In response to General Wheeler's statements that "if ihe^JJnited Stat^^^^ 
f j South Vietnam, it will lose all of Southeast Asia" and that its position throughout 
all of Asia would be damaged, both McCone and Rusk indicated agreement. 
Ambassador Taylor stated the view that the United States could not afford to let 
Ho Chi Minh win in South Vietnam. Secretary Rusk added the consideration that 
the whole world doubted our abihty to pull it off. 

The jneeting resulted in consensus among the prin^^^ on certain courses of 
prompt action to put additional pressure on North Vietnam. The following 
measures were recommended to the President for his decision: 

1. U.S. naval patrols in the Gulf of Tonkin should be resumed imme- 
diately (about September 12). They should operate initially beyond the 12- 
mile limit and be clearly dissociated from 34A maritime operations. . . . 

2. 34A operations by the GVN should be resumed immediately thereafter 
(next week). The maritime operations are by far the most important. . . . 

3. Limited GVN air and ground operations into the corridor areas of 
Laos should be undertaken in the near future, together with Lao air strikes 
as soon as we can get Souvanna's permission. These operations will have 
only limited effect, however. 

4. We should be prepared to respond on a tit-for-tat basis against the 
DRV [against specific and related targets] in the event of any attack on 
U.S. units or any special DRV/VC action against SVN. 

purposes for these measures were conceived as: (1) "to assist morale in 
SVN," (2) to "show the Communists we still mean business," and (3) "to keep 
the risks low and under our control at each stage." 

2. Implementing Actions 

These recommendations (and presumably the purposes) were approved by 
i-f^ ' the President and became the basis for a program of limited (though not con- 
tinuous) pressures exerted against North Vietnam from mid-September to mid- 
December 1964. On lO^ptember, the White House issued a National Security 
Action Memorandum [Doc. 195] which authorized immediate resumption of the 
DE SOTO Patrols and prompt discussions with the Government of Laos to 
develop plans for cross-border operations. It also authorized resumption of 34A 
operations following completion of the DE SOTO Patrol, with the additional 
guidance that "we should have the GVN ready to admit that they are taking 
place and to justify and legitimize them on the basis of the facts of VC infiltration 
by sea." It is significant that although this order, in effects authorized the initiation 
of Phase III (October through December) of the covert operations under OPLAN 
34A, it specified contrary to the provisions of Phase III that "we should not con- 
sider air strikes under _34A for the present." 

Naval Operations. The resumption of naval patrol and covert maritime opera- 
tions off the coast of North Vietnam did not proceed exactly as planned. The 
destroyers U.S.S. Morton and U.S.S. Edwards embarked on the third DE SOTO 
Patrol on 12 September. On the night of JJ^September [words illegible] 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 195 

Approximately 40 minutes after first contact and after firing a warning shot, 
Morton and Edwards opened fire, both scoring hits. Subsequently, on two sepa- 
rate occasions after the target images had disappeared from the radar, new 
contacts appeared and were fired on at a range of approximately 8,500 yards, 
hits again being indicated for both vessels. In all, Morton fired 56 five-inch and 
128 three-inch rounds; Edwards fired 152 five-inch and 6 three-inch rounds. 
There were no rounds or torpedoes reported coming from the radar contacts. 
Later on the 18th (Washington time), President Johnson sus£ended the DE SOTO 
Patrols; they were not to be resumed until February 19637^ 

In the aftermath of the t hird destroyer incident in the Tonkin Gulf, covert 
GVN maritime operations were n ot resumed un til October. President Johnson 
authorized reactivation of this program on the 4th, under very tight controls. 
The proposed schedule of maritime operations" h'ad to be submitted at the be- 
ginning of each month for approval. Each operation was approved in advance 
by OSD (Mr. Vance), State (Mr. L. Thompson or Mr. Forrestal) and the White 
House (Mr. McGeorge Bundy). During October, these included two probes, an 
attempted junk capture, and ship-to-shore bombardment of North Vietnamese 
radar sites. Later, they included underwater demolition team assaults on bridges 
along coastal LOC's. Unlik.e the DE SOTO Patrols, these unacknowledged opera- 
tions continued throughout the year. 

Actions in Laos. Operations in the Laotian Panhandle took shape with fewer 
unpredictable developments. On 1 1 September, representatives of the U.S. mis- 
sions in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam met in Saigon to discuss implementation 
of the NSAM 314 provisions for cross-border air and ground operations. [Doc. 
196] Regarding air operations, they agreed that if their primary objective was 
military in nature, "sharp, heavy" and concentrated attacks would be needed and 
that U.S. and/or VNAF/FARMGATE forces would be required. If their impact 
was intended to be primarily psychological (presumably affecting both com- 
munists and the GVN), they believed that the operations could be more widely 
spaced, relying primarily on Laotian T-28s with some U.S. strikes on harder 
targets. In view of Souvanna Phouma's reported opposition to VNAF strikes in 
the Panhandle, the representatives conceded that the slower paced operation 
with RLAF aircraft offered the best course. However, they saw a joint Lao, Thai, 
RVN and U.S. operation as particularly desirable, were it not for the time 
required to arrange it. As one means of symbolizing four power support for the 
operation, they recommended that the Thai Government be approached regard- 
ing use of the Korat base by participating U.S. aircraft. 

Regarding cross-border ground operations, the representatives agreed that the 
southern and central Panhandle offered terrain and targets consistent with the 
available GVN assets. Although it was recognized that accompanying U.S. ad- 
visers might be necessary to assure the success of the operations, the planners 
acceded to Vientiane's objections that such a flagrant violation of the Geneva 
Accords would endanger the credibility of our political stance in Laos. Sub- 
sequent to the meeting, the Vientiane Embassy removed a reservation expressed 
earlier and cleared the way for company-size penetrations of up to 20 km along 
Route 9, near Tchepone. At the conference this operation was considered of 
high priority with respect to infiltration traffic into South Vietnam. 

The mission representatives agreed that, once the operations began, they 
should not be acknowledged publicly. In effect, then, they would supplement the 
other covert pressures being exerted against North Vietnam. Moreover, while 
the Lao Government would of course know about the operations of their T-28s, 

196 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

Souvanna was not to be informed of the GVN/U.S. operations. The unacknowl- 
edged na.ture of these operations would thus be easier to maintain. Accordingly, 
the representatives recommended to Washington that Vientiane be authorized to 
approach the Laotian Government regarding initiation of T-28 operations. On 
the other hand, the Administration was asked to approve ground operations in 
three specified areas of the Panhandle. 

Over two weeks passed before these recommendations were acted on. In the 
meantime, the ICS also submitted proposals for implementing NSAM 314, re- 
questing immediate authority to implement air operations in the Panhandle. 
Endorsing the main theme of the mission representatives, they called for com- 
bined action by RLAF T-28s and U.S. aircraft which would provide "suppressive 
fire" and attack heavily defended bridges. The ICS also sought authority to ini- 
tiate GVN ground intelhgence collection and target reconnaissance patrols in 
the Laotian corridor. 

On 6 October, authority was given to Vientiane Embassy to urge the Laotian 
Government to begin T-28 air strikes "as soon as possible." The RLAF targets 
were to be selected from a previously coordinated 22-target list, a few of which 
were designed for U.S. YANKEE TEAM strikes, but they were to exclude Mu 
Gia Pass. The latter mission was known to require U.S. escort and suppressive 
fire, and a decision on whether to authorize such U.S. operations had not yet 
been made in Washington. Moreover, neither had the Administration authorized 
YANKEE TEAM strike missions against the tougher Panhandle targets. [Doc. 

Administration rationale on the issue of U.S. participation in the Panhandle air 
strikes is not clear from the sources available to this writer. Contemporary in- 
telligence estimates indicated the communist responses were likely to be limited 
to (1) increases in antiaircraft deployments in the area, (2) propaganda attacks 
and (3) possible sabotage of U.S./GVN supporting bases. However, Washington's 
viewpoint on another Laotian request for air support may be significant. With 
respect to air strikes against targets along Route 7, in support of the RLG com- 
paign to consolidate its holdings west of the Plaine des Jarres, Administration 
rationale was as follows: 

[material missing] 

[to] defer decision on Route 7 strikes until we have strong evidence [of] 
Hanoi's preparation for new attack in [the Plaine des Jarres], some of which 
might come from RLAF operations over the Route. 

On 13 October, one day before the initial RLAF attacks, U.S. strikes were 
again requested on four defended targets near Nape and Tchepone. They were to 
accompany T-28 strikes on communist military installations and supply points 
in the northern part of the Panhandle. The significance of these operations, and 
U.S. participation in them, was indicated a few days earlier in another meeting 
among representatives of the three missions. It was reported at this time that 
it was probable "that ARVN will be unable [to] afford detachment [of] any 
significant ground capability for [the Laotian] Corridor in [the] foreseeable fu- 
I ture." Therefore, air operations would offer the only dependable means of com- 
batting VC infiltration through Laos. The participants recorded "unanimous 
I agreement that U.S. participation in air operations in [the] corridor is essential 
jif such operations are to have desired military and psychological impact." Em- 
jphasizing that the initiative for these operations came from the United States 
Government, they pointed out that failure to participate could result in loss of 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 197 

control over them and could even jeopardize their continuation. At minimum 
the group recommended that U.S. aircraft fly CAP (combat air patrol) over 
the RLAF aircraft, as requested by the Laotian (jovernment and as permitted by 
a "relatively minor extension" of existing U.S. rules of engagement. 

CAP missions were approved, but U.S. air strikes against communist LOCs 
in the Laotian Panhandle were not authorized until much later in the year. 
Cross-border ground operations did not receive authorization at any time during 
the period covered in this study. 

3. Negotiating Posture in Laos 

One reason for the delay in requesting Laotian air strikes in the Panhandle 
was the need to await the uncertain outcome of discussions in Paris among 
leaders of the three Laotian political factions. Since 27 August, when they 
first met, the three Princes (Souvanna Phouma, Souphanouvang, and Boun Oum) 
had reached an impasse on conditions to accompany a ceasefire. Souvanna 
Phouma insisted on communist withdrawal from positions won in the May offen- 
sive and had proposed neutralization of the Plaine des Jarres under LC.C. super- 
vision. On 15 September, when it seemed that further negotiations had become 
fruitless. Prince Souphanouvang offered to withdraw communist forces from the 
Plaine in return for discussions leading to a new 14-Nation Conference. The 
following day, Souvanna countered with a proposal that a cease-fire begin on 
1 October and attempted to verify and make more explicit the mutual conces- 
sions. The pro-communist leader balked over stipulated guarantees, such as I.C.C. 
supervision, that pro-communist forces would in fact withdraw and be replaced 
by neutralists. However, on the 21st, the leaders arrived at [words illegible] and 
preliminary conditions for reconvening a Geneva conference. 

The narrow margin by which the cease-fire agreement failed to come about 
dramatized the delicate nature of the Administration's diplomatic position in 
Laos. Having agreed to support the tripartite discussions prior to the Tonkin 
Gulf incidents and prior to the political upheaval in Saigon, it felt constrained 
to go along with them — particularly if they served to forestall movement toward 
a Geneva-type negotiation. However, a Laotian cease-fire was not compatible 
with current perceptions of U.S. interest even if it resulted in communist with- 
drawal from the Plaine des Jarres. Ambassador Unger pointed out the con- 
tradictory nature of our position in his reply to the State Department's mid- 
August analysis of future U.S. courses of action. Ambassador Taylor emphasized 
the need to maintain the option of operations in the Panhandle in his reply 
also, and the September discussions in Washington confirmed that his view 
was shared by most of the President's advisors. One could conclude that the 
United States was fortunate that Prince Souphanouvang was so intransigent on 
the issue of LC.C. supervision. It is also possible that in insisting on this 
provision to the leftist prince Souvanno Phouma "knew his man" — perhaps 
reflecting perceptive American advice. 

Certainly the course of the tripartite discussion followed a pattern commen- 
surate with prior U.S. calculation. In an assessment of future courses of action 
used as the basis for the policy analysis cabled to affected interested embassies 
and CINCPAC by the State Department, Assistant Secretary Bundy characterized 
U.S. strategy with the statement, "We would wish to slow down any progress 
toward a conference. . . ." He then referred to a specific negotiating position 
proposed by Ambassador Unger (a proposal for tripartite administration of the 
Plaine des Jarres) as "a useful delaying gambit." Significantly, this proposal was 

198 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol III 

advanced at Jaris by Souvanna Phouma on 1 September — illustrating the fact 
that Souvanna was carefully advised by U.S. diplomats both prior to and during 
the Paris meetings. Other features of Souvanna's negotiating posture which 
apparently were encouraged as likely to have the effect of drawing out the dis- 
cussions were insistence on communist acceptance of ( 1 ) Souvanna's political 
status as premier and (2) unhampered operations by the I.C.C. It will be 
recalled that the latter point was the issue on which progress toward a cease- 
fire became stalled. 

It is important to note here that the State Department recognized that Souvanna 
Phouma might well act on his own and feel compelled to move toward a con- 
ference, even at the price of a cease-fire. In such an event, our position was to 
be dependent on conditions in South Vietnam: 

[quotation illegible] 

It is apparent from this and other documents that GVN stability and morale were 
perceived by the Administration as the principal pacing elements for Southeast 
Asian policy in the post-Tonkin period. 

4. Anticipation of Wider Action 

Through most of the strategy discussions of early autumn, South Vietnam 
was the main focus of attention. However, with increasing frequency its political 
and military conditions were referred to in a new way. More and more it was 
being evaluated in terms of its suitability as a base for wider action. Ambassador 
Taylor cautioned that "we should not get involved militarily with North Viet- 
nam and possibly with Red China if our base in South Viet Nam is insecure and 
Khanh's army is tied down everywhere by the VC insurgency." At the September 
meeting, Mr. McCone criticized the actions recommended by the ICS as being 
very dangerous because of the current weakness of the GVN base. On 23 
September, Walt Rostow wrote to Ambassador Taylor of the need for building 
a more viable political system in South Vietnam "which will provide us with 
an adequate base for what we may later have to do." 

General Scheme. The kind of operations for which "an adequate base" was 
increasingly considered essential is evident in a number of strategy discussions of 
the period. Moreover, it is clear that several officials shared the expectation that 
these operations would begin early in the new year. It will be recalled that the 
series of actions recommended to President Johnson by his top advisers at the 
end of May — most of which had been completed within a few days of the 
Tonkin Gulf incidents — were intended to culminate, if necessary, in a strike 
against North Vietnam accompanied by an active diplomatic offensive that 
included agreement to a negotiated settlement. Further, Phase III of the approved 
contingency OPLAN 37-64, developed in response to NSAM 288, provided for 
the apphcation of overt graduated pressures against North Vietnam — primarily 
air strikes. These were to be carried out by the GVN, but which would also 
include operations by U.S. air and naval forces. Deployments of additional 
forces to Southeast Asia in early summer and in the immediate aftermath of the 
Tonkin Gulf incidents were based on force requirements identified to support this 
plan. Its perceived significance during the post-Tonkin period was indicated 
when Ambassador Taylor reported that the objectives of the U.S. Mission in 
Saigon included preparation to implement OPLAN 37-64 "with optimum readi- 
ness by January 1, 1965." 

Subsequent strategy discussions reflected the extent to which the new year 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 199 

was anticipated as the occasion for beginning overt military operations against 
North Vietnam. Both the State Department's mid-August strategy analysis and 
the working paper on which it was based indicated that the "limited pressures" 
(subsequently authorized by NSAM 314) would extend "tentatively through 
December." However, these actions were perceived as "foreshadowing systematic 
military action against the DRV," which "we might at some point conclude . . . 
[was appropriate, depending on the] situation in South Vietnam, particularly if 
there were to be clear evidence of greatly increased infiltration from the north.") 
Should specific provocations not occur, a contingency target of 1 January 
1965 was indicated: 

... in [the] absence of such major new development [incidents or 
increased infiltration], we should probably be thinking of a contingency date 
for planning purposes, as suggested by Ambassador Taylor, of 1 January 

The working paper elaborated more fully than the cable the kind of pre- 
liminary actions considered necessary to set the stage. Some of this elaboration 
was provided in suggested language changes penciled-in by OSD prior to an inter- 
agency meeting called to discuss its contents. Referring to air strikes in the Pan- 
handle (proposed to begin in September), a suggested OSD addition stated: "The 
strike should probably be timed and plotted on the map to bring them to the 
borders of North Vietnam at the end of December." The main body of the 
text suggested that the January operations include "action against infiltration 
routes and facilities" as "probably the best opening gambit." It explained that 
"the family of infiltration-related targets starts with clear military installations 
near the borders [and] can be extended almost at will northward." The "next 
upward move" was suggested to include action against "military-related targets," 
such as "POL installations and the mining of Haiphong Harbor" and "key 
bridges and railroads." The purposes perceived for these operations was "to 
inflict progressive damage that would have a meaningful cumulative effect." 

Ambassador Taylor viewed 1 January 1965 as a "target D-Day" before which 
the U.S. Mission and the GVN should develop "a posture of maximum readi- 
ness for a deliberate escalation of pressure against North Viet Nam." The nature 
of this escalation was perceived as "a carefully orchestrated bombing attack on 
NVN, directed primarily at infiltration and other military targets." It would 
consist of 

U.S. reconnaissance planes, VNAF/FARMGATE aircraft against those 
targets which could be attacked safely in spite of the presence of the MIGs, 
and additional U.S. combat aircraft if necessary for the effective execution 
of the bombing program. 

He qualified this assessment with the observation, "We must always recognize, 
however, that events may force [the] U.S. to advance D-Day to a considerably 
earlier date." The reason for this qualification was Taylor's concern that the 
GVN might not be able to sustain its authority until January. Thus, in order 
to "avoid the probable consequences of a collapse of national morale" it would 
be necessary, he felt, "to open the campaign against the DRV without delay." 

Similar assessments of timing in relation to more vigorous military action 
against North Vietnam were made in OSD/ISA. The immediate measures pro- 
posed in McNaughton's draft "Plan of Action for South Vietnam" (3 September) 


200 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol 111 

were conceived not only as means to provoke North Vietnam into responses 
justifying U.S. punitive actions. They were also believed to make possible the 
postponement "probably until November or December" of a decision regarding 
the more serious escalation. In McNaughton's terminology the latter were 
referred to as "a crescendo of GVN-U.S. military actions against the DRV," 
but they included a variety of possibilities: 

The escalating adtions might be naval pressures or mining of harbors; 
or they might be made up of air strikes against North Vietnam moving 
from southern to northern targets, from targets associated with infiltration 
and by-then-disclosed DRV-VC radio command nets to targets of military 
then industrial importance, and from missions which could be handled by 
the VNAF alone to those which could be carried out only by the U.S. 

It is clear, however, that what was contemplated was a pattern of gradually 
mounting pressures intended to impress the DRV with the increasing gravity of 
its situation. 

Records of the September conference do not indicate that a decision was 
made relative to an explicit January contingency date. In several respects they 
do make clear that the possibility of escalation at the end of the year was con- 
sidered. For example, hope was expressed that the GVN would grow stronger 
over the following two to three months — by implication, strong enough to per- 
mit "major deliberate risks of escalation" or " deliberate ly provocative" U.S. 
actions. Directly related to this hope was the intention of havinglhe GVN admit 
publicly to its conduct of maritime operations against North Vietnamese coastal 
installations and communications. The aim was "to justify and legitimize them 
on the basis of the facts of VC infiltration by sea." It was believed that this step 
would be useful in establishing a climate of opinion more receptive to expanded 
(air) operations against North Vietnam when they should become necessary. 

Reservations. By October 1964, therefore, there was a general belief among 
the President's top advisors that it would probably be necessary eventually to 
subject North Vietnam to overt military pressure. Many were convinced, how- 
ever reluctantly, that it would not be possible to obtain an effective solution 
to the problem of DRV sponsorship of the insurgency in South Vietnam or a 
practical solution to the political strife in Laos without such direct pressure on 
the instigators of these problems. The earlier views of most of the principal ad- 
visors had been clearly contingent upon a major reversal — principally in Laos — 
and had been advanced with the apparent assumption that military actions hope- 
fully would not be required. Now, however, their views were advanced with 
a sense that such actions were inevitable. Moreover, they were advanced despite 
, the perspective afforded by a number of critical evaluations of the use of military 
I pressure. In addition to the studies made during the first half of 1964, all of the 
I principal advisory agencies had reviewed a detailed critique of the so-called 
' "Rostow thesis" just prior to the September strategy conference. 
\ critique was accomplished in OSD/ISA with inputs and coordination from 

I State's Policy Planning Council. The assigned task was to make "a thorough 
1 analysis of and report on the 35>stow„thesis. that covert aggression justifies and 
1 must be fought by attacks on the source of the aggression." Copies were dis- 
i tributed to the Washington recipients of the Rostow paper, including the White 
[/House, Department of State, Department of Defense, the JCS and each of the 


Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 201 

In their summary analysis of the thesis, the critiquers emphasized two variables 
which would determine its utility: (1) the extent of the commitment of the 
nation furnishing external support and (2) the extent to which the insurgency 
affected vital U.S. interests. With regard to the former variable, they described 
"three fundamental conditions" which would have to exist to achieve success 
"in cases where the external opponent is committed to the extent of the North 
Vietnamese." The opponents would have to be persuaded that: (1) the United 
States was "taking limited actions to achieve limited objectives;" (2) "the com- 
mitment of the military power of the United States to the limited objective is 
a total commitment — as total as our commitment to get the missiles out of Cuba 
in October 1962;" (3) the United States has "established a sufficient consensus 
to see through this course of action both at home and on the world scene." 
Further, unless such an opponent were so persuaded, "the approach might well 
fail to be effective short of a larger U.S. military involvement." 

Essential to creating the necessary conviction of U.S. intent on the part of the 
opposing government, the analysis argued, was a firm image that the President 
and the U.S. public were in agreement that vital national interests were at stake. 
Unless vital interests were clearly at stake, 

the limited military actions envisaged would not only involve much 
greater political costs at home and abroad . . . but there would be much 
greater risk that the program would not be effective except at high levels of 
involvement and risk, and that it might be allowed to fall short of such 

Assuming that vital U.S. interests were assessed as being at stake by an Ad- 
ministration in some unspecified case, the critiquers went on to outline some 
additional "conditions for success." First, an Administration would have to pre- 
sent a solid case to the U.S. Congress and public and to our allies that the external 
support provided by the target nation was instrumental in sustaining the insur- 
gency. In the interest of making its public case conclusive, "the U.S. would have 
to be prepared to expose intelligence data." Second, it would have to identify 
enemy targets "such that limited attacks and the threat of further attacks would 
bring great pressure on him to comply." Third, the U.S. Government would have 
to be able to communicate its case to the target nation "including the high degree 
of U.S. commitment and the limited nature of our objective." This would involve 
controlling both the U.S. and its ally's actions "to convey limited objectives, 
minimizing incentives to comply." Finally, it would have to be capable of deter- 
mining enemy compliance with our demands. 

The critiquers' analysis included an assessment of the costs and risks to be 
incurred in applying the thesis and cautioned against its adoption as a general 
declaratory policy: 

Given present attitudes, application of the Rostow approach risks do- 
mestic and international opposition ranging from anxiety and protest to 
condemnation, efforts to disassociate from U.S. policies or alliances, or even 
strong countermeasures. . . . 

Currently, then, it is the Rostow approach, rather than the measures it 
counters that would be seen generally as an "unstabilizing" change in the 
rules of the game, an escalation of conflict, an increasing of shared, inter- 
national risks, and quite possibly, as an open aggression demanding con- 
demnation . . . particularly in general terms or in abstraction from a 
specific, immediately challenging situation. 

202 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol 111 

On the other hand, the controlled, limited military actions implied in 
the Rostow approach would be far more acceptable to the extent that they 
were seen to follow from Presidential conviction of vital national necessity 
in a specific context, and even more to the extent that this conviction were 
shared by Congress and the U.S. public. 

An attempt to legitimize such actions in general terms, and in advance 
of an emergency situation, would not only be likely to fail, but might well 
evoke public expression of domestic and allied opposition and denuncia- 
tion . . . from opponents that would make it much more difficult for the 
President to contemplate this approach when an occasion actually arose. . . . 

They went on to point out that accepting the Rostow thesis as a principle of 
U.S. declaratory policy would require making it public before applying it. The 
need to be assured of "Congressional and other public support in carrying through 
the thesis in a given case" would require this. Therefore, the analysts concluded, 
"It would be exceedingly unwise to make the Rostow thesis a declaratory policy 
unless the U.S. were prepared to act on it" — but then only if we were assured 
of the public commitment and the capability to achieve success. 

With regard to the applicability of the thesis to the contemporary situation 
in Southeast Asia, the critiquers summarized their views as follows: 

. . . the situation in Vietnam and Laos is the only one in which a strong 
case can be made that the two major indications for the Rostow approach 
are made: the ineffectiveness of alternatives and vital U.S. interests. Even 
in this case the degree of U.S. interest, the degree and acceptability of the 
risks, and the potential effectiveness of this approach are subject to question. 
In particular, the likelihood and the political costs of failure of the approach, 
and the pressures for U.S. escalation if early moves should fail, require 
serious examination. 

5. Differing Agency Policy Views 

In describing the evolution of Administration strategy, this account has pre- 
viously emphasized the points of general agreement among the President's 
advisors. Its purpose has been to describe the existence and sense of a policy 
consensus that had emerged by mid-October. However, significant differences of 
opinion existed among the various advisory agencies regarding what actions 
should be taken and how soon they should be initiated. These differences can be 
discerned with respect to five issues: (1) whether and how soon the GVN 
maritime operation should be acknowledged; (2) the desirability of tit-for-tat 
reprisals; (3) how best to cope with enemy reactions to increased pressures on the 
DRV; (4) the degree of GVN/U.S. readiness required before increasing the 
pressures; and (5) the relationship perceived between increased pressures and 

JCS views. Senior military officials differed among themselves on the first three 
issues. CINCPAC apparently perceived difficulties resulting from official ac- 
knowledgments of GVN maritime operations and sugested that press leaks would 
[words illegible]. General Wheeler [words illegible] operations and thereby ena- 
ble their scope and effectiveness to be increased. However, he was not supported 
by the service chiefs. They opposed surfacing the GVN operations until they 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 203 

could become associated with the DE SOTO Patrols "or until the United States 
is prepared openly to support MAROPS militarily." All of these officials agreed 
that it was necessary to undertake reprisals for a variety of hostile VC or DRV 
actions. In particular they wanted U.S. responses to be greater in degree, not 
necessarily matching in kind, than the provocations. Where they came to differ 
was on the desirability of deliberately provoking DRV actions to which we could 
then respond. After the September White House meeting only the Air Force 
Chief of Staff and the Marine Commandant favored this approach. 

Differences with respect to preparation for coping with enemy reactions to 
harsher pressures centered around the issue of committing greater numbers of 
U.S. ground forces to South Vietnam. CINCPAC, supporting General West- 
moreland's request, urged provision for deployment of Marine and Army units 
to provide security for U.S./GVN operating bases. The JCS disagreed and dis- 
approved a request to make such adjustments in OPLAN 37-64, on grounds that 
since VC capabilities were still questionable it was preferable not to precommit 
U.S. forces in the manner urged. At issue concurrently was an Air Force proposal 
to reduce the number of ground forces provided for in the event of a large scale 
DRV/CHICOM intervention in Southeast Asia and to reply more heavily on 
tactical air capabilities. The other chiefs disagreed, but the controversy concerning 
the relative emphasis on ground and air forces for the defense of Southeast Asia 
was to occupy JCS attention for several months to come. 

Regarding the issue of readiness to increase pressures on North Vietnam and 
the role of negotiations, the military chiefs were in agreement throughout the 
period. Soon after the Tonkin Gulf incidents they urged prompt implementation 
of more serious pressures using U.S. air capabilities. They opposed B-57 training 
for the VNAF, citing its limited pilot and supporting technical resources which 
would be needed for counterinsurgency missions. In response to warnings that 
we should not get deeply involved in a conflict in Southeast Asia until we were 
surer of the GVN's commitment, they replied that "the United States is already 
deeply involved." They went on to recommend preparations for deploying the 
remaining OPLAN 37-64 forces needed for mounting a U.S. air strike program 
against North Vietnam. While the JCS did not address the subject of negotiations 
explicitly during this period, their statements implied a lack of interest in a 
negotiated solution to the Vietnam problem. At every opportunity they reiterated 
their recommendation that we should attack North Vietnamese will and capabil- 
ities as necessary to force a DRV decision to halt its support and direction of 
the insurgency. 

Saigon Embassy views. Ambassador Taylor opposed the views of his former 
military colleagues on most issues. Prior to the September meeting, he expressed 
objections to the idea of surfacing or leaking to the press the nature of GVN 
maritime operations. He also opposed tit-for-tat retaliation bombing for the reason 
that it was "likely to release a new order of military reaction from both sides, the 
outcome of which is impossible to predict." He saw enemy ground assaults as a 
greater threat to U.S. bases in South Vietnam than enemy air attacks and sup- 
ported the deployment of U.S. ground force units for base security purposes. 
This was to occur after the beginning of GVN/U.S. ground and air cross-border 
operations into Laos. However, not unlike the Chiefs, one of the criteria he 
employed in shaping his recommendation was the avoidance of a major U.S. 
ground force commitment. 

Ambassador Taylor's views were apparently based on an underlying rationale 
that actions to counter the VC/DRV aggression should not outstrip the GVN and 

204 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

that if it could be avoided, the conflict should not be escalated to a level beyond 
South Vietnamese capacities to manage it. Although believing firmly that the 
United States would have to apply direct pressure against North Vietnam eventu- 
ally, to force her to abandon her objectives, he felt that the major burden of this 
effort should be borne by the GVN. Thus, his support for U.S. base security 
deployment was based in part on concern lest ARVN units be tied down in such 
roles and, thus, unavailable for more free-ranging combat. Similarly, in August, 
the Embassy favored immediate initiation of B-57 training for the VNAF to 
enable it to play a substantial role in the overt air attacks envisioned for 1965. 

This training — like Saigon's discouragement of U.S. eagerness to negotiate in 
Laos — was also advocated for its value in bolstering the GVN's morale and 
determination to continue fighting against its communist enemies. This same 
consideration was at the root of the Ambassador's belief that any negotiations 
which affected South Vietnam should be avoided until North Vietnam was sub- 
jected to more forceful military pressures. He also felt that communication with 
Hanoi should be preceded by a thorough discussion and understanding of our 
limited war aims with the GVN. 

The Ambassador's basic concern that the GVN be capable of and committed 
to supporting the evolving levels of war effort against the communists was indi- 
cated in his response to the political upheaval in Saigon. Earlier, his recom- 
mendations had included the option of opening "the [air] campaign against the 
DRV without delay," in the event of threatened collapse of the Khanh Govern- 
ment. The objective was to have been "to avoid the possible consequences of a 
collapse of national morale." At the September meeting and subsequently, 
however, after Khanh had already been forced to step down from GVN leadership 
once and his new government had [words illegible] the Ambassador opposed 
overt action [words illegible] urged instead [words illegible]. 

OSD views. OSD and OSDTSA views were clearer on some issues than on 
others. For example, the source documents indicate their consistent support 
for surfacing the GVN maritime operations. Similarly, it is clear that OSD 
continually regarded negotiations as a necessary process for terminating the in- 
surgency in South Vietnam and a program of increased pressures against the 
DRV as a means of improving the U.S. bargaining position. Like other agencies, 
it saw negotiations as something that should not be entered into until the pressures 
were hurting North Vietnam, but it emphasized that the pattern of pressures 
should make clear our limited aims. 

Equally consistent but less explicit were OSD views on GVN/U.S. readiness 
to mount overt attacks on North Vietnam. Secretary McNamara was concerned 
that too early initiation of air action against North Vietnam might find the 
United States unprepared to cope with the consequences. At the end of August 
he directed the JCS to study and report on POL and ordnance stocks available to 
carry out approved contingency plans to combat a large-scale communist inter- 
vention after the expenditures required for the pattern of attacks which they 
proposed against North Vietnam. He also asked for specific recommendations on 
next steps to be taken in the event destruction of the proposed JCS targets did 
not destroy the DRV will and capability to continue. Mr. McNaughton's "Plan 
of Action" was intended to make unnecessary any decision concerning larger 
operations until late in the autumn. Morever, it was designed explicitly "to create 
as little risk as possible of the kind of military action which would be difficult to 
justify to the American public and to preserve where possible the option to have 
no U.S. military action at all." In September, OSD/ISA was on record as favoring 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 205 

the initiation of bombing against North Vietnam — after suitable provocation by 
Hanoi. But by mid-October the OSD view was apparently that overt actions 
against the North should be held off at least until the new year. 

With respect to the other issues, the most consistent aspect of OSD views was 
their prudence. Its attitudes toward tit-for-tat reprisals are not really clear. Soon 
after Tonkin Gulf, OSD notified the ICS that the events there precluded any 
further need for their work on retaliation scenarios in support of NSAM 288. 
Then, just three weeks later, the McNaughton ''Plan of Action" proposed de- 
liberate provocation of DRV actions to permit U.S. retaliation — but as a means 
to begin a gradual squeeze on North Vietnam, not merely tit-for-tat reprisals. 
Mr. McNamara's own views do not appear except by implication, in that he did 
not indicate any opposition to them when shown William Bundy's draft summation 
of the September meeting consensus. Prudence was again the dominant feature 
of OSD views on preparations to cope with possible enemy reactions to the 
harsher pressures. For example, "on several occasions" Secretary McNamara 
expressed to the JCS his interest in the possibility of countering a massive Chinese 
intervention in Southeast Asia without the need to introduce large numbers of 
U.S. ground forces. 

[material missing] 

proposal to reduce provisional ground force levels for Southeast Asian defense 
concluded that the issue remained "open." It was critical of that particular study 
because of its methodology and assumptions. Later, however, Mr. McNamara 
supported the JCS in their disapproval of the MACV request for allocation of 
additional ground force units for base security purposes. 

State views. Various documents make it clear that there were several different 
points of view prevalent within the State Department during the period in 
question. Reflected here are those channeled through the Secretary of State or 
communicated to the Department of Defense, usually through the Assistant 
Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs. With few exceptions, the courses of action 
followed by the Administration were those advocated by State. Its proposal for 
B-57 training for the VNAF was apparently overruled on the basis of JCS 
recommendations, but otherwise its support for measures to further strengthen 
the GVN and for pressuring actions other than overt military attacks throughout 
1964 prevailed. Its support for the acknowledgement of GVN maritime operations 
failed to materialize only because of objections on the part of the GVN itself. 

State Department views on the other issues, likewise, were reflected in U.S. 
policy positions. Reprisals for VC acts that could be matched with fitting responses 
were favored in principle but were not necessarily to be carried out in all 
instances. Escalation through such responses was seen as useful for purposes of 
assisting GVN morale, but State did not believe that steps should be taken to bring 
about such situations just yet. It did, however, acknowledge that deliberate 
provocations might be useful in the future. Negotiation of a Vietnam solution 
through an international conference was viewed as inevitable, but it should be 
permitted only after hurting North Vietnam and convincing South Vietnam of 
U.S. resolve to achieve its objectives. Moreover, Secretary Rusk, Assistant Secre- 
tary Bundy and Counselor Rostow were each known to view avoidance of a 
commitment of U.S. ground forces to Southeast Asia as an important element in 

CIA views. With the exception of Mr. McCone's opinions rendered in the 
September strategy meeting, available CIA documents provide no policy recom- 
mendations. However, they do contain assessments bearing directly on the policy 

206 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

issues discussed previously — particularly with respect to enemy reactions to the 
measures contemplated. For example, intelligence estimates indicated little likeli- 
hood that intensified maritime operations would result in retaliation against GVN 
naval bases. Similarly, they predicted few serious consequences in response to 
U.S. limited tit-for-tat reprisal strikes. Rather, the CIA believed that communist 
responses would be limited to defensive measures, increased propaganda, and 
additional logistical assistance from China. In the event our reprisal actions were 
"heavier and sustained," the DRV was expected first to attempt to dissuade the 
United States through international political moves, [words illegible] 

CIA estimates of communist reaction to systematic U.S./GVN air attacks on 
North Vietnam were less certain. While acknowledging "substantial danger" 
that the DRV might decide to send its own armed forces on a large scale to Laos 
and South Vietnam, 

("Hanoi might assume that United States would be unwilling to undertake 
a major ground war, or that if it was, it could ultimately be defeated by the 
methods which were successful against the French.") 

they thought it more likely that Hanoi would choose a more conservative course. 
They reasoned that "the DRV might calculate that it would be better to stop VC 
activity temporarily than risk loss of its military facilities and industry," but that 
they would make no meaningful concessions "such as agreeing to effective inter- 
national inspection of infiltration routes." In any event, the CIA did not believe 
that Chinese intervention was likely unless the United States should strike the 
Chinese mainland or unless U.S./GVN forces should attempt to "occupy areas 
of the DRV or communist-held territory in Northern Laos." It indicated that both 
North Vietnam and Communist China wished to avoid direct conflict with the 
United States and would probably "avoid actions that would in their view unduly 
increase the chances of a major U.S. response" against them. 

Rather than outright military victory in South Vietnam, CIA estimates indicated 
belief that the communists expected to gain control through a "neutralist coalition 
government dominated by pro-Communist elements" that would come about 
"soon." This concern over the threat of neutralism had been voiced at the Sep- 
tember meeting by Mr. McCone and was quite prevalent among intelligence 
discussions of the period. Altogether, it created a rather gloomy impression of 
GVN readiness to support sustained overt operations against North Vietnam and 
absorb likely VC countermeasures. In October the picture became even gloomier 
as a result of an intelligence assessment which described continuing deterioration 
of the South Vietnamese political situation and predicted even more: 

... we believe that the conditions favor a further decay of GVN will 
and effectiveness. The likely pattern of this decay will be increasing defeat- 
ism, paralysis of leadership, friction with Americans, exploration of possible 
lines of political accommodation with the other side, and a general petering 
out of the war effort. 



In their Southeast Asia policy discussions of August-October 1964, Admin- 
istration officials had accepted the view that overt military pressures against 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 207 

North Vietnam probably would be required. Barring some critical developments, 
however, it was generally conceded that these should not begin until after the 
new year. Preparations for applying such pressures were made in earnest during 

1. Immediate Antecedents 

In Administration policy discussions, the two developments most often cited as 
perhaps warranting implementation of overt military pressures before 1965 were: 
(1) increased levels of infiltration of guerrillas into South Vietnam and (2) 
serious deterioration of the GVN. Evidence of both was reported to Washington 
during October. 

National intelligence estimates gave the GVN little hope of surviving the 
apathy and discouragement with which it was plagued. They reported, "Govern- 
ment ministries in Saigon are close to a standstill, with only the most routine 
operations going on." U.S. /GVN planning was not being followed by GVN 
action. A coup by disgruntled South Vietnamese military figures was believed 
imminent (one had been attempted unsuccessfully on 13 September). Moreover, 
the civilian government which General Khanh had promised for the end of 
October was seen as unlikely to bring about any real improvement. 

A threat of GVN capitulation to the NLF, in the form of accepting a coalition 
government, was also seen as a real possibility. Citing "numerous signs that 
Viet Cong agents have played a role in helping sustain the level of civil disorder 
. . . in the cities," intelligence reports estimated that it was the Communist 
intention to seek victory through a "neutralist coalition" rather than by force 
of arms. Perhaps straining a bit, an estimate stated, "The principal GVN leaders 
have not to our knowledge been in recent contact with the Communists, but there 
has been at least one instance of informal contact between a lesser governmental 
official and members of the NLF." Another estimate portrayed the DRV and 
Chinese as regarding South Vietnam as a "developing political vacuum," soon 
to be filled "with a neutralist coalition government dominated by pro-Communist 

Reports of increasing infiltration began arriving in mid-October. Ambassador 
Taylor cabled on the 14th [Doc. 210] that he had received indications of a 
"definite step-up in infiltration from North Vietnam, particularly in the northern 
provinces . . ." He went on to report: 

A recent analysis suggests that if the present rate of infiltration is main- 
tained, the annual figure for 1964 will be of the order of 10,000. Further- 
more ... we are finding more and more "bona fide" North Vietnamese 
soldiers among the infiltrees. I feel sure that we must soon adopt new and 
drastic methods to reduce and eventually end such infiltration if we are ever 
to succeed in South Vietnam. 

A similar report was cabled directly to the White House on 16 October. In it, 
Ambassador Taylor repeated his comments on infiltration and advised the 
President of the steadily worsening situation in South Vietnam. The Ambassador 
reported the infiltration of northern-born conscripts and relayed GVN claims 
that they were coming in organized units. He pointed out that with the advent 
of the dry season, the problem would assume even greater magnitude and urged 
that it be given immediate attention. 

The Taylor estimates of end-year infiltration totals probably were quite alarm- 

208 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

ing. If accurate they indicated that the rate had risen sharply during September 
and early October: The total number of infiltrees for 1964 as of 1 September 
was then estimated as 4,700. Of particular concern, no doubt, was the apparent 
emphasis on reinforcing Communist units in the Central Highlands and in the 
northern provinces of South Vietnam. These warnings came hard on the heels of 
widespread press reports of badly weakened GVN control in three portions 
of the country. 

The JCS seized on these fresh reports and resubmitted their proposals for taking 
prompt measures against North Vietnam. On 21 October, they argued: 

Application of the principle of isolating the guerrilla force from its re- 
inforcement and support and then to fragment and defeat the forces has 
not been successful in Vietnam. . . . The principle must be applied by 
control of the national boundaries or by eliminating or cutting off the 
source of supply and direction. 

On the 27th they submitted a major proposal for "strong military actions" to 
counteract the trends cited in the national intelligence estimates and in the 
Taylor cables. In language identical to that used in two August memoranda and 
at the September strategy meeting, they stated that such actions were "required 
now in order to prevent the collapse of the U.S. position in Southeast Asia." 
They then recommended a program of actions to support the following strategy: 

a. Depriving the Viet Cong of out of country assistance by applying military 
pressures on the . . . DRV to the extent necessary to cause the DRV to cease 
support and direction of the insurgency. 

b. Depriving the VC of assistance within SVN by expanding the counterin- 
surgency effort — military, economic, and political — within SVN. 

c. Continuing to seek a viable effective government in SVN based on the 
broadest possible consensus. 

d. Maintaining a military readiness posture in Southeast Asia that: 

(1) Demonstrates the U.S. will and capability to escalate the action 
if required. 

(2) Deters a major Communist aggression in the area. 

The program recommended by the JCS included a list of actions to be taken 
within South Vietnam and a separate list of actions outside. The Chiefs had 
listed them in order of increasing intensity, and they requested authority "to 
implement now" the first six actions within the country and the first eight 
outside. The latter included air strikes by GVN/FARMGATE aircraft against 
Communist LOC's in Laos and in the southern portion of North Vietnam. 

In the context of the reported worsening situation in South Vietnam, the 
JCS proposal was given serious consideration in OSD. Since Ambassador Taylor 
had expressed concern over initiating overt pressures against North Vietnam 
"before we have a responsible set of authorities to work with in South Vietnam," 
a copy of the JCS paper was forwarded to him for review and comment. The 
OSD's stated intention was to consider the Ambassador's views before develop- 
ing a proposal to present to President Johnson. 

While this proposal was still under consideration (1 November 1964), Viet 
'\ Cong forces attacked U.S. facilities at the Bien Hoa airbase with 81mm. mortar 
I fire. FoLir American servicemen were killed, and five B-57 tactical bombers were 
I destroyed, and major damage was inflicted on eight others. 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 209 

Administration attention was focused immediately on the question of what 
the United States should do in response to the Bien Hoa provocation. It will be 
recalled that such an eventuality had been discussed at the September strategy 
meeting. The Presidential directive which resulted from it stated: "We should 
be prepared to respond as appropriate against the DRV in the event of any 
attack on U.S. units or any special DRVA^C action against SVN." As of the \ 
end of October (in anticipation of resumed DE SOTO Patrols), elements of our \ 
Pacific forces were reported as "poised and ready" to execute reprisals for any f 
DRV attacks on our naval vessels. Thus, there was a rather large expectancy J 
among Administration officials that the United States would do something in | 
retaliation. j 

Apparently, the decision was made to do nothing — at least not of a retaliatory 
nature. At a White House meeting to discuss possible courses of action, on 1 
November, "concern was expressed that proposed U.S. retaliatory punitive ac- 
tions could trigger North Vietnamese/CHICOM air and ground retaliatory acts." 
Questions were raised about "increased security measures and precautionary 
moves of U.S. air and ground units to protest U.S. dependents, units and in- 
stallations against such retaliation. [Doc. 215] Following the meeting, a White 
House news release announced that the President had ordered the destroyed 
and badly "damaged aircraft replaced. Administration officials stated that "the 
mortar attack must be viewed in the light of the Vietnamese war and of the 
whole Southeast Asian situation. If the United States is to retaliate against 
North Vietnam in the future," they reportedly said, "it must be for broader / 
reasons than the strike against the Bien Hoa base." Moreover, they drew a ) 
contrast between this incident and the Tonkin Gulf attacks where our destroyers 
were "on United States business." ■ 

Source documents available do not indicate that any further decisions were 
made on the Bien Hoa matter. A second meeting to discuss possible U.S. actions 
was "tentatively scheduled" for 2 November, but the available materials con- 
tain no evidence that it was held. President Johnson was scheduled to appear 
in Houston that afternoon, for his final pre-election address, and it may be 
that the second White House meeting was called off. In any event, unofficial 
reports from Saigon, two days later, stated that most of the B-57s had been 
withdrawn from the Bien Hoa base. While acknowledging that "some" had been 
removed to Clark Air Base, in the Philippines, official spokesmen in Saigon 
refused to comment on whether or not a wholesale withdrawal had taken place. 
One thing is certain; there were no retaliatory strikes authorized following the 
attack on the U.S. bomber base. 

However, retaliatory measures were proposed. On 1 November, the JCS sug- 
gested orally to Secretary McNamara that air strikes be authorized on key Com- ' 
munist targets in both Laos and North Vietnam. According to the JCS plan, 
those in Laos would be hit within 24-36 hours after approval, with forces 
already in place, and these attacks would divert attention from the preparatipn I 
necessary for the stronger actions to follow. The latter would include aC B-55> | 
night attack on Phuc Yen airfield (outside Hanoi), to be followed by a dawn 1 
strike by USAF and Navy tactical aircraft against other airfields and POL J 
storage in the Hanoi-Haiphong area. f ' 

Ambassador Taylor immediately cabled a Saigon Embassy-MACV recom- • 
mendation for "retaliatory bombing attacks on selected DRV targets by com- 
bined U.S./VNAF air forces and for a policy statement that we will act_s .imilady 
in like cases in the future." In a later cable he made specific reference to "the 
retaliatory principle confirmed in NSAM 314," stating that, if his initial recom- 

210 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

'Jmendation was not accepted, a^ least a lesser alternative should be adopted. This 
I he described as "intensifying 34 A operations and initiating air operations against 
(selected targets as an interim substitute for more positive measures." 

On A November, the JCS repeated in writing their recommendations of the 
1st, adding some explanatory comment and taking issue with certain aspects 
of the Taylor recommendations. They explained that they considered the VC 
jattack on Bien Hoa airfield "a deliberate act of escalation and a change of 
Ithe ground rules under which the VC have operated up to now." They cautioned 
against "undue delay or restraint" in making a response, since it "could be mis- 
interpreted by our allies in Southeast Asia, as well as by the DRV and Com- 
munist China" and "could encourage the enemy to conduct additional attacks. 
. . ." Referring to Ambassador Taylor's recommendation to announce a policy 
of reprisal bombing, the JCS denounced a "tit-for-tat" policy as "unduly restric- 
tive" and tending to "pass to the DRV substantial initiatives with respect to 
the nature and timing of further U.S. actions." They concluded: 

I Early U.S. military action against the DRV would lessen the possibility 
i of misinterpretation by the DRV and Communist China of U.S. determina- 
\ tion and intent and thus serve to deter further VC attacks such as that at 
^ Bien Hoa. 

In the meantime, there had been created what may have been the only con- 
crete result from the high-level policy deliberations following the Bien Hoa 
'incident. An interagency task force, known as the NSC Working Group, had 
' begun an intensive study of future U.S. courses of action. Recommendations 
from the JCS and others were passed on to that group for incorporation in 
their work. 

^^2. Formation of the NSC Working Group 

i The "NSC Working Group on SVN/SEA" held its first meeting at 0930 hours, 
\J> 'November, thus placing the decision to organize such a group at sometime 
j earlier — probably on 2 November or perhaps even at the high-level meeting on 
* 1 November. Its charter was to study "immediately and intensively" the future 
courses of action and alternatives open to the United States in Southeast Asia 
and to report as appropriate to a "Principals Group" of NSC members. In 
turn, this group of senior officials would then recommend specific courses of 

taction to the President. Initially, the working group was given approximately 
one week to ten days to complete its work. Actually, it developed and recast its 
reports over a period of three weeks or more. 

Four agencies were represented in the formal membership of the group. The 
Department of State contingent included Assistant Secretary Bundy (Chairman), 
Marshall Green, Michael Forrestal (both of the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs), 
and Robert Johnson (of the Policy Planning Council). Assistant Secretary (ISA) 
McNaughton represented OSD. Vice Admiral Lloyd Mustin was the JCS mem- 
ber. The CIA was represented by Harold Ford. Other staff members from these 
agencies assisted in work on specific topics. 

The Working Group's efforts were apportioned among seven tasks, the initial 
input for each being accomplished by a particular member or subcommittee, as 
shown on p. 211. [Doc. 216] 

Most inputs were made in the form of either (1) draft papers treating fully 
a topic intended for inclusion in the Working Group's final submission or (2) 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 211 


Assessment of the current situation in South IntelHgence community 
Vietnam, including policy direction of inter- 
ested powers. 

U.S. objectives and stakes in South Vietnam and William Bundy 
Southeast Asia. 

Broad options (3) available to the United Bundy and ISA 

Alternative forms of possible negotiation. State/Policy Planning 


Analyses of different options vis-a-vis U.S. ob- JCS to propose specific ac- 
jectives and interests. tions; Policy Planning Coun- 

cil to examine political im- 
pacts of the most violent 
option first. 

Immediate actions in the period prior to Presi- State/Far East Bureau 
dential decision on options. 

memoranda commenting on an initial draft paper and suggesting alterations. 
Because of the unique responsibilities and advisory processes of the JCS, their 
member apparently chose to make initial inputs largely through references to 
or excerpts from regular JCS documents; he also contributed to the redrafting 
of the option analyses. The initial papers on each of the topics were circulated 
among the Working Group members, reviewed in consultation with their parent 
organizations and modified. Some positions passed through as many as three 
drafts before being submitted to the Principals. 

3. Working Group Assessments of the Utility of Pressures 

The NSC Working Group approached its work with the general assessment ^' 
that increased pressures against North Vietnam would be both useful and J; 
necessary. However, this Assessment embraced a wide range of considerations ii 
stemming from the developing situation in South Vietnam and a variety of |^! 
viewpoints concerning what kinds of pressures would be most effective. 

a. Sense of Urgency. As the working group began its deliberation, an aware- 
ness that another Bien Hoa could occur at any time was prominent in both the 
official and the public mind. The tenuous security of U.S. bases in South Vietnam 
had received wide publicity. Moreover, the news services were reporting the 
threat of civil protest against the new Saigon government, and the increased 
level of guerrilla infiltration from the North was being publicly aired. These 
developments lent an added sense of urgency to the Group's work. The Chair- 
man of the Working Group was sensitive to these developments and to related 
attitudes within the Administration. For example, he indicated that the intel- 
ligence agencies were "on the verge of . . . agreement that infiltration has in 
fact mounted," and that the Saigon mission was "urging that we surface this by 
the end of this week or early next week." He stressed that "the President isl 
clearly thinking in terms of maximum use of a Gulf of Tonkin [reprisal] ration- ( 
ale." The nature of such a decision was expected to be: 

212 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

either for an action that would show toughness and hold the line till we 
can decide the big^issue, or as a basis for starting a clear course of action 
under . . . broad options. 

He impHed that our intention to stand firm in South Vietnam was being com- 
municated to the USSR ("Secretary Rusk is talking today to Dobrynin") and 
indicated the desirability of President Johnson signalUng something similar 
rather soon through the pubHc media. This was seen as particularly important 
"to counter any SVN fears of a softening in our policy," presumably in view 
of our not responding to the Bien Hoa attack. [Doc. 219] 

Chairman Bundy was aware also of the significance attached by some ob- 
servers to the first U.S. actions after the Presidential election. As was pointed 
out to him, "all Vietnamese and other interested observers" would be watching 
carefully to "see what posture the newly mandated Johnson Administration will 
assume." For this reason, William H. Sullivan, head of the interagency Vietnam 
Coordinating Committee (and soon to be appointed the new U.S. Ambassador 
to Laos), urged "that our first action be . . . one which gives the appearance 
of a deterjTiination to take risks if necessary to maintain our position in South- 
east Asia." An immediate retaliation for any repetition of the Bien Hoa attack 
and armed reconnaissance missions in the Laotian Panhandle were cited as 
specific examples. He went on to recommend to Mr. Bundy: 

I feel that it is important . . . that the Administration go on record 
fairly soon placing our policy in Viet Nam within the larger perspective of 
our policies in the Western Pacific, especially as they involve confrontation 
with Communist China. [Doc. 220] 

A sense of urgency for the Working Group's efforts was also derived from 
assessments of the trends within South Vietnam. For example, the intelligence 
panel composed of CIA, DIA, and State/INR members saw little prospect for 
an efi'ective GVN despite an acknowledged slowing of "adverse political trends." 
In their view the political situation was "extremely fragile," with the Saigon ad- 
ministration "plagued by confusion, apathy and poor morale" and the new 
leadership hampered by the older factionalism. The security situation in the 
countryside was assessed as having continued to deteriorate, with "Viet Cong 
control . . . spreading over areas heretofore controlled by the government." 
Although indicating "better than even" chances that the GVN could "hang on 
for the near future and thus afford a platform upon which . . . [to] prosecute 
the war and attempt to turn the tide," the panel painted a grim picture of its 
prospects. This assessment was probably instrumental in prompting Assistant 
Secretary McNaughton's cryptic observation that "progress inside SVN is im- 
portant, but it is unlikely despite our best ideas and efforts." Besides, he ob- 
served, if it came at all, it would take "at least several months." In his view, 
the efforts of the Working Group could in some measure compensate for this 
slow progress inside South Vietnam: 

Action against North Vietnam is to some extent a substitute for strength- 
ing the government in South Vietnam. That is, a less active VC (on orders 
from DRV) can be handled by a less efficient GVN (which we expect to 

b. Views of DRV Susceptibility. The extent to which "action against North 
Vietnam" might affect that nation's support of the conflicts in South Vietnam 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 213 

and Laos was a matter on which members of the Working Group did not fully 
agree. The intelligence panel members tended toward a pessimistic view. They 
pointed out that "the basic elements of Communist strength in South Vietnam 
remain indigenous," and that "even if severely damaged" the DRV could con- 
tinue to support the insurrection at a lessened level. Therefore, they stressed 
that the U.S. ability to compel a halt to the DRV support depended on eroding 
Hanoi's will and persuading the DRV: 

that the price of mounting the insurrection in the South at a high level 
would be too great and that it would be preferable to reduce its aid . . . 
and direct at least a temporary reduction of V.C. activity. 

As the panel members saw it, this respite would then provide an opportunity to 
stabilize and improve the GVN. But, in their words, "Even so, lasting success 
would depend upon a substantial improvement in the energy and effectiveness 
of the RVN government and pacification machinery." 
f However, the intelligence panel did not concede very strong chances for 
; breaking the will of Hanoi. They thought it quite likely that the DRV was will- 
ing to suffer damage "in the course of a test of wills with the United States over 
the course of events in South Vietnam." To support this view, they cited Hanoi's 
belief that international pressures would develop against deliberate U.S. expan- 
sion of the war. Further, that given present trends in South Vietnam, both 
Hanoi and Peking had good reason to expect success without having to initiate 
actions carrying the risk of the kind of war which would expose them to "the 
great weight of superior U.S. weaponry." The panel also viewed Hanoi as esti- 
mating that the U.S. will to maintain resistance in Southeast Asia could in time 
be eroded — that the recent U.S. election would provide the Johnson Administra- 
tion with "greater policy flexibility" than it previously felt it had. 

This view was challenged by the Working Group's JCS member as being too 
"negative." Interpreting the panel's non-specific reference to "policy flexibility" 
in an extreme sense, he wrote: 

If this means that Hanoi thinks we are now in position to accept world- 
wide humiliation with respect to our formerly stated objectives in Vietnam, 
this is another reason why it is desirable that we take early measures to dis- 
abuse their thinking. 

Moreover, he indicated the JCS view that the slighdy improved hopes for gov- 
ernment stability (acknowledged by the panel) were good reason why "early 
and positive actions" should be taken. This point was reinforced by his judgment 
that (in contrast with its impact on esprit and political effectiveness) the GVN's 
"principal task is to afford the platform upon which the RVN armed forces, with 
U.S. assistance, prosecute the war." 

In criticism of the intelligence panel's emphasis on the need to influence DRV 
will, Admiral Mustin indicated that enemy capabilities represented a more ap- 
propriate target. He stated the JCS assessment that: 

a. The actual U.S. requirement with respect to the DRV is reduction of 
the rate of delivery of support to the VC, to levels below their minimum 
necessary sustaining level . . . 

b. In the present unstable situation something far less than total destruc- 
tion may be all that is required to accomplish the above. A very modest 

214 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

change in the government's [GVN] favor . . . may be enough to turn the 
tide and lead to a sucessful solution. Of course it is not possible to predict 
in advance . . . the precise level of measures which will be required to 
achieve the above. This is the reason for designing a program of progres- 
sively increasing squeeze. 

One of the factors encouraging JCS optimism, he pointed out, was the assess- 
ment accepted by the panel that both Hanoi and Peking wanted to avoid direct 
conflict with the United States. This would act as a deterrent to Communist 
persistence, particularly if by a program of military pressures we were able to 
revise their assessment that they could win "without much risk of having to feel 
the weight of U.S. response." 

Apparently as a result of these criticisms and their influence on other Work- 
ing Group members, the Group's final assessment of DRV susceptibility to mili- 
tary pressures was somewhat modified. While continuing to emphasize that af- 
fecting Hanoi's will was important, the criticality of it was obscured by conces- 
sions to the possible impact of damage to DRV capabilities and by greater 
reliance on conditional phrasing. For example: 

the nature of the war in Vietnam is such that U.S. ability to compel the 
DRV to end or reduce the VC insurrection rests essentially upon the effect 
of the U.S. sanctions on the will of DRV leadership to sustain and enlarge 
that insurrection, and to a lesser extent upon the effect of sanctions on the 
capabilities of the DRV to do so. 

Although giving explicit recognition to "a rising rate of infiltration," and con- 
tinuing to acknowledge limits to U.S. abilities to prevent the DRV's material 
support for the VC, the assessment stated that "U.S. -inflicted destruction in 
North Vietnam and Laos would reduce these supporting increments and damage 
DRV/VC morale." It qualified this statement, however, by pointing out that 
the degree to which such damage would provide the GVN with a breathing spell 
would depend largely on "whether any DRV 'removal' of its direction and sup- 
port of the VC were superficial or whole." If superficial or "limited to gestures 
. . . that removed only the more visible evidences of the DRV increment," the 
report continued, "it would probably not be possible to develop a viable and 
free government in South Vietnam." 

In general, the final assessment of DRV susceptibility to pressures was less 
discouraging than the intelligence panel's initial submission, although it could 
not be considered particularly encouraging either. The reference to U.S. "policy 
flexibility," to which the JCS took such violent objection, was removed, and the 
following non-committing statement was used instead: "Hanoi's immediate esti- 
mate is probably that the passing of the U.S. election gives Washington the 
opportunity to take new military actions against the DRV and/or new diplo- 
matic initiatives." If new military pressures were applied, the report indicated 
that Hanoi's leaders would be faced with a basic question: "Is the U.S. deter- 
mined to continue escalating its pressures to achieve its announced objectives 
. . . or is the U.S. escalation essentially a limited attempt to improve the U.S. 
negotiating position?" It continued: 

Their decision . . . would be affected by the U.S. military posture in 
the area, by the extent and nature of the U.S. escalation, the character of 
the U.S. communication of its intentions, and their reading of domestic 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 215 

U.S. and international reactions to the inauguration of U.S. attacks on the 

The report [words illegible] not to predict how the DRV might answer the 
"basic question" given alternative assessments of the variables in the quoted 
paragraph. However, it did offer the caveat that "comprehension of the other's 
intentions would almost certainly be difficult on both sides, and especially so as 
the scale of hostilities mounted." 

In assessing Hanoi's ability and willingness to sustain U.S. attacks in order 
to pursue its goals, the report continued its balanced but slightly pessimistic 

We have many indications that the Hanoi leadership is acutely and nerv- 
ously aware of the extent to which North Vietnam's transportation system 
and industrial plan is vulnerable to attack. On the other hand, North Viet- 
nam's economy is overwhelmingly agriculture and, to a large extent, decen- 
tralized. . . . Interdiction of imports and extensive destruction of trans- 
portation facilities and industrial plants would cripple DRV industry. These 
actions would also seriously restrict DRV military capabilities, and would 
degrade, though to a lesser extent, Hanoi's capabilities to support guerrilla 
warfare in South Vietnam and Laos. . . . We do not believe that attacks 
on industrial targets would so greatly exacerbate current economic difficul- 
ties as to create unmanageable control problems. . . . DRV leaders . . . 
would probably be willing to suffer some damage to the country in the 
course of a test of wills with the U.S. over the course of events in South 

The assessment concluded with estimates of likely Chinese Communist and 
Soviet efforts to offset pressures directed toward North Vietnam. The Working 
Group recorded its belief "that close cooperation exists between Hanoi and 
Peiping and that Hanoi consults Peiping on major decisions regarding South 
Vietnam." Because the VC insurrection served "Peiping's interests in undermin- 
ing the U.S. position in Asia" and because of the Sino-Soviet dispute, the group 
thought it likely that the Chinese would "feel compelled to demonstrate their 
readiness to support" Hanoi in maintaining pressure on South Vietnam. How- 
ever, it was noted that "Chinese Communist capabilities to augment DRV offen- 
sive and defensive capabilities are slight," being limited largely to modest quan- 
tities of air defense equipment, additional jet fighters and naval patrol craft. On 
the other hand, the group believed "Moscow's role in Vietnam is likely to re- 
main a relatively minor one." Khrushchev's successors were believed unwilling 
to run substantial risks to undermine the GVN. Citing Hanoi's desire for con- 
tinuing Soviet military and economic aid, the report stated an ironic judgment 
concerning the less-militant of the large Communist powers: 

Moscow's ability to influence decisions in Hanoi tends consequently to 
be proportional to the North Vietnamese regime's fears of American action 
against it, rising in moments of crisis and diminishing in quieter periods. 
Moscow's willingness to give overt backing to Hanoi, however, seems to be 
in inverse proportion to the level of threat to North Vietnam. 

4. Perceptions and Development of U.S. Pressure Options 

The NSC Working Group began its deliberations with a variety of U.S. 
actions in mind and with an apparently flexible approach to the objectives that 

216 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

the Administration might reasonably seek to achieve. As ideas were exchanged 
and debated, however, objectives became somewhat less flexible and options 
seemed to narrow. Such a process could have resulted from either: (1) pre- 
conceptions on the part of particularly influential members; (2) a bureaucratic 
tendency to compromise; or (3) simply the limited availability of practical alter- 
natives. A combination of these factors may even have been at work in the case 
of the Working Group. An assessment of this nature is beyond the scope of 
this primarily documentary research effort. Still, the question is an important 
one to reflect on in tracing the development of Working Group recommenda- 

a. Perception of U.S. Objectives and Interests. National objectives in South- 
east Asia were regarded in two categories: existing (sometimes called "initial") 
policy objectives and those comprising a possible fallback position. The former 
did not change and did not undergo any reinterpretation during the course of 
the Working Group's study. These were seen as ( 1 ) "helping a government [of 
South Vietnam] defend its independence," and (2) "working to preserve [in 
Laos] an international neutralized settlement." Three basic "factors" were rec- 
ognized as "standing behind" these policy objectives: 

a. The general principle of helping countries that try to defend their 
own freedom against communist subversion and attack. 

b. The specific consequences of communist control of South Vietnam 
and Laos for the security of, successively, Cambodia, Thailand (most seri- 
ously), Malaysia, and the Philippines — and resulting increases in the threat 
to India and — more in the realm of morale effects in the short term — the 
threat to [other nations in Asia]. 

c. South Vietnam, and to a lesser extent, Laos, as test cases of commu- 
nist "wars of national liberation" world-wide. 

Current U.S. objectives in South Vietnam and Laos were seen as an integral 
part of the "overall policy of resisting Communist expansion world-wide," and 
particularly a part of the "policy of resisting the expansion of Communist China 
and its allies. North Vietnam and North Korea." Thus, for South Vietnam to 
come under Communist control, "in any form," was seen as 

a major blow to our basic policies. U.S. prestige is heavily committed to 
the maintenance of a non-Communist South Vietnam, and only less heavily 
so to a neutralized Laos. 

Unlike the current objectives, those comprising a fall-back position dealt only 
with South Vietnam. IMoreover, they were modified during the course of the 
Working Group's effort. The modifications occurred in the way the objectives 
were presented — in the context of the presentation — rather than in their specific 
phrasing. The words remained the same throughout: 

1. To hold the situation together as long as possible so that we have 
time to strengthen other areas of Asia. 

2. To take forceful enough measures in the situation so that we emerge 
from it, even in the worst case, with our standing as the principal helper 
against Communist expansion as little impaired as possible. 

3. To make clear ... to nations in Asia particularly, that failure in 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 111 

South Viet-Nam, if it comes, was due to special local factors that do not 
apply to other nations we are committed to defend — that, in short, our will 
and ability to help those nations defend themselves is not impaired. 

At first, these fall-back objectives for South Vietnam were presented as pos- 
sible alternatives — to be considered in conjunction with a reassessment of the 
costs and risks associated with currently acknowledged objectives. Following its 
recognition of the extent to which U.S. prestige had been committed, even the 
second draft (8 November) stated: 

Yet ... we cannot guarantee to maintsin a non-Communist South 
Vietnam short of committing ourselves to whatever degree of military ac- 
tion would be required to defeat North Vietnam and probably Communist 
China militarily. Such a commitment would involve high risks of a major 
conflict in Asia, which could not be confined to air and naval action but 
would almost inevitably involve a Korean-scale ground action and possibly 
even the use of nuclear weapons at some point. 

Despite all this, it was acknowledged, South Vietnam "might still come apart," 
leaving the United States deeply committed but with much of its initial justifica- 
tion disintegrated. "Hence," the evaluation continued, 

... we must consider realistically what our over-all objectives and stakes 
are, not just what degree of risk and loss we should be prepared to make 
to hold South Vietnam, or alternatively, to gain time and secure our further 
lines of defense in the world and specifically in Asia. 

Significant, in shedding light on the subtle changes that occurred in this ra- 
tionale during the ensuing three or four weeks, was its treatment of the third 
fall-back objective. Observing that "most of the world had written off" both 
South Vietnam and Laos in 1954, an early draft acknowledged that neither had 
acquired the international standing of such former targets of Communist aggc^ 
sion as Greece, Iran and South Korea. It went on to point out several historical 
characteristics of South Vietnam and Laos that made them such uniqu((, caspG, 
including: (1) "a bad colonial heritage" and inadequate preparation for^elf- 
government; (2) a "colonialist war fought in half-baked fashion and lost"; and 
(3) "a nationalist movement taken over by Communists ruling in the other half 
of an ethnically and historically united country. . . ." It then added: 

The basic point, of course, is that we have never thought we could de- 
fend a government or a people that had ceased to care strongly about de- 
fending themselves, or that were unable to maintain the fundamentals of 
government. And the overwhelming world impression is that these are lack- 
ing elements in South Viet-Nam. ... , , 

Moreover, the commentary noted that there was widespread expectancy that if 
South Vietnam were lost it would be due to its lack of these elements. 

Subsequent to circulation of the initial draft of the "objectives and national 
interest" Section, a number of critical or related comments were directed toward 
Group Chairman Bundy. On 4 November, Michael Forrestal suggested that "an 
important flavor" was lacking in the original analysis — namely, "the role of 
China" and her need for "ideological successes abroad." In his view, given 
Chinese policy, "the eff'ect of our withdrawal from a situation in which the 

218 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

people we were trying to help seemed unable to help themselves" would be 
more politically pervasive in Asia than if China did not exist. He thought the 
U.S. object should be to "contain" Chinese political and ideological influence 
"for the longest possible period," thus providing time to create, "at the very 
least Jitoist regimes on the periphery of China . . ." [Doc. 218] On 6 Novem- 
ber, William Sullivan also urged placing U.S. policy in Vietnam in the "larger 
perspective" of the political confrontation with Communist China. In an at- 
tached, larger exposition of policy rationale for the Western Pacific, he presented 
conceptions of the U.S. problem quite similar to those advocated by Forrestal. 
The political future of the peoples of East Asia was portrayed as depending 
largely on a struggle between Washington and Peking. Chinese political and 
ideological aggressiveness was viewed as a threat to the ability of these peoples 
to determine their own futures, and hence to develop along ways compatible 
with U.S. interests. The U.S. commitment to defeat North Vietnamese aggres- 
sion, even at the risk of "direct military confrontation" with Communist China, 
was perceived as part of the longer-term policy of establishing conditions which 
permit the independent nations of the region to develop the ability and con- 
fidence "to cope with the emerging and expanding power of China." These 
comments may have influenced that part of the 8 November version which 
referred to current U.S. objectives as part of the broader policy of "resisting 
the expansion of Communist China and its allies. . . ." 

The JCS member also stressed the importance of not falling back from cur- 
rent policy aims. [Doc. 228] He stated that "in the eyes of the world" the 
United States was committed to its initial objectives "as matters of national 
prestige, credibility, and honor." Further, that U.S. retention of "a measure of 
free-world leadership" required "successful defense" in South Vietnam against 
the wars of national liberation strategy. Admiral Mustin criticized the Bundy 
draft for overstating "the degree of difficulty associated with success for our 
objectives in SVN." He asserted: < 

Our first objective is to cause the DRV' tojterminate support- of the SEA 
3 insurgencies. ... To achieve this objective does not necessarily require 
that we "defeat North Viet-Nam," and it almost certainly does not re- 
quire that we defeat Communist China. Hence our commitment to SVN 
does not involve a high probability, let alone "high risks," of a major con- 
flict in Southeast Asia. 

He characterized the draft's expression of concern over risks and costs as an 
inference "as though the harder we try the more we stand to risk and to lose. 
On the contrary, he stated, the "best hope for minimizing risks, costs, and losses 
in achieving our objectives" could be attained though "a resolute course of 

Admiral IMustin also attacked the implication that there was "some alterna- 
tive to our holding South Vietnam. There is none," he stated, adding: "We have 
no further fall-back position in Southeast Asia in the stated view of the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff." Specifically, he warned that to attempt to strengthen other 
areas of Asia, "in the context of our having been pushed out of SVN, would be 
a thoroughly non-productive effort militarily. . . ." IVIoreover, characterizing 
the draft's concessions to the unique difficulties in Laos and South Vietnam as 
"sour grapes," he attacked its assumptions that we could convince other nations 
that failure in South Vietnam was due to strictly local factors. He warned that 
other nations would regard any such explanation on our part as "completely 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964— Jan. 1965 219 

transparent." Concerning any lack of GVN will to defend itself, he commented, 
"A resolute United States would ensure . . . that this lack were cured, as the 
alternative to accepting the loss." The JCS member portrayed a U.S. failure in 
South Vietnam as shaking the faith and resolve of the non-Communist nations 
who rely on the United States for major help against Communist aggression. In 
that event, he saw little possibility for effective U.S. reassurances. 

The impact of these criticisms can be seen in the working Group's final as- 
cessment of U.S. interests in Southeast Asia. In explaining the need to consider 
a fall-back position, the statement stressed the need merely to assess "the draw- 
backs" associated with it. Lending to this judgment were admissions that "there 
is some chance that South Vietnam might come apart under us whatever course 
of action we pursue" and "strong military action necessarily involves some risks 
of an enlarged and even conceivably major conflict in Asia." Then followed the 

These problems force us to weight in our analysis the drawbacks and 
possibilities of success of various options, including the drawbacks of ac- 
cepting only the fall-back objectives set forth below. (Italics added) 

Missing was the earlier draft's reference to potential costs and risks involved in 
pursuing current objectives. Missing also was any suggestion that the Adminis- 
tration might find some advantage in seeking an alternative to these objectives. 

The Working Group went on to assess, in terms almost identical to those in 
the initial draft, the likely consequence of Communist control of South Vietnam 
for different world areas of interest to the United States. The group saw impor- 
tant distinctions between the likely impact on U.S. interests in Asia and those 
in the world at large. For the latter, the most significant variable was seen as 
the degree to which adverse developments in Southeast Asia might produce 
domestic public revulsion against all U.S. commitments overseas: 

Within NATO (except for Greece and Turkey to some degree), the loss 
of South Vietnam probably would not shake the faith and resolve to face 
the threat of Communist aggression or confidence in us for major help. 
This is so provided we carried out any military actions in Southeast Asia 
without taking forces from NATO and without generating a wave of "iso- 
lationism" in the U.S. In other areas of the world, either the nature of the 
Communist threat or the degree of U.S. commitment or both are so rad- 
ically different than in Southeast Asia that it is difficult to assess the impact. 
The question would be whether the U.S. was in fact able to go on with its 
present policies. 

For Asia, other than Southeast Asia, the Working Group's assessment went as 

The effect on Asia generally would depend heavily on the circumstances 
in which South Vietnam was lost and on whether the loss did in fact greatly 
weaken or lead to the early loss of other areas in Southeast Asia. Nationalist 
China . . . , South Korea, and the Philippines would need maximum re- 
assurance. While Japan's faith in our military posture and determination 
may not be shaken, the growing feeling that Communist China must some- 
how be lived with might well be accentuated. India and Iran appear to be 

220 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

the Asian problem cases outside the Far East. A U.S. defeat could lead to 
serious repercussions in these countries. There is a great deal we could still 
do to reassure these countries, but the picture of a defense line clearly 
breached could have serious effects and could easily, over time, tend to 
unravel the whole Pacific and South Asian defense structures. 

The consequences for Southeast Asia of Communist control in South Vietnam 
were seen as highly differentiated and by no means automatic. The "domino 
theory" was viewed as "over-simplified." The Working Group felt that it might 
apply "if, but only if. Communist China . . . entered Southeast Asia in force 
and/or the United States was forced out of South Vietnam, in circumstances of 
military defeat." Nevertheless, the group judged that "almost immediately," Laos 
would become extremely hard to hold and Cambodia would be "bending sharply 
to the Communist side." These developments were seen as placing great pressure 
on Thailand and encouraging Indonesia to increase its pressure on Malaysia. 
Thailand, it was noted, had "an historic tendency to make 'peace' with the side 
that seems to be winning," and Malaysia's "already serious Malay-Chinese prob- 
lem" was cited. The Working Group concluded: 

We could do more in Thailand and with the British in Malaysia to re- 
inforce the defense of these countries, the initial shock wave would be 
great [sic] ... 

This assessment was quite close to that made in the 8 November draft in which 
Bundy had gone on to point out that even if we succeeded in overcoming the 
shock wave in Thailand and Malaysia, "the struggle would be uphill for a long 
time to come." But in neither case was much credence placed in the domino 

It should be noted that Admiral Mustin and the ICS did not agree with this 
assessment. The Admiral commented that the ICS believed the so-called domino 
theory "to be the most realistic estimate for Cambodia aQ^^JiiaiLandi probably 
B,urma, possibly Malaysia." In the context of late 1964, these nations were ex- 
I pected to ^.^ollapse "plai nly a nd simj^ly as the corollary to oui^withdrawal." 
V Accordingly, a specific notation of the differing "viewpoint of the ICS was placed 
in the Working Group's final report. 

In describing its assessment of the consequences of Communist control in 
South Vietnam, the Working Group stated: 

There are enough "ifs" in the above analysis so that it cannot be con- 
cluded that the loss of South Vietnam would soon have the totally crippling 
effect in Southeast Asia and Asia generally that the loss of Berlin would 
i have in Europe; but it could be that bad, driving us to the progressive loss 
^f^^^^y^^ I of other areas or to taking a stand at sqme^point Jso that] there would 
^ I almost certainly be a major conflict and perhaps the great risk o^^n^bar^ 

b. Evolution of Options. The alternative courses of action perceived by the 
Working Group went through a fairly rapid evolution. As conceived by Chair- 
man Bundy and John McNaughton, who apparently collaborated in their initial 
formulation, the options would offer a wide range of military actions and diplo- 
matic postures. [Doc. 224] As the views of other members and interested officials 
were expressed, and as it became more apparent how little flexibility was per- 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 111 

ceived with respect to national objectives, subtle changes occurred. The effect was 
to narrow somewhat the range of effects which the different options might achieve 
and to tend to blur the distinctions between them. However, the process occurred 
so early in the life of the Working Group that it is difficult to pin-point the 
changes and somewhat presumptuous, relying only on documentary evidence, to 
explain them. 

The perceived options were three in number, labeled A, B, and C. Option A 
essentially was a continuation of military and naval actions currently underway 
or previously authorized, to include prompt reprisals for attacks on U.S. facilities 
or o ther VC J'spectaculars" in South Vietnam. These were to be accompanied by 
continued resistance to a negotiated settlement unless stringent preconditions, 
amounting to agreement to abide by U.S. interpretations of the Geneva Accords, 
were met. Option B consisted of current policies plus a systematic program of 
progressively heavy military pressures against North Vietnam, to be continued 
until current objectives were met. Negotiations were to be resisted, as in A, 
although to be entered ultimately, but they were to be carried on in conjunction 
with continued bombing attacks. Option C combined current policies with (1) 
additional — but somewhat milder — military pressures against North Vietnam and 
(2) a d eclared willin gness to negotiate. Once negotiations we rg^ggun, the rnili- 
tar y pressures were t o stop, although the threat to resurne^wasTo be kept alive. 

In a general sense, these distinctions remained constant throughout the Work- 
ing Group effort. However, subtle changes occurred. In the initial conception of 
B, it was perceived as "meshing at some point with negotiation," based on an 
underlying assumption that negotiations would probably be unavoidable. The full 
analysis of this earliest form of B (discussed more fully later) makes it clear 
that some kind of international discussions would probably begin fairly early in 
time as the intensity of our military pressures increased. These would be applied 
deliberately to permit evaluation of results at each step. Yet, the initial form of 
B was intended to embrace hig h intensity o ptions — in McNaughton's terminology, 
a "fu ll squeeze ." It will be recalled from the discussions earlier in the fall, that 
this term was applied to graduated operations that included mining harbors, 
bombi ng bridge s and LOG targets and event ually attacking ind ustries. As Option 
B developed, however, it became associated with prolo nged re sistance to a 
negoti ated settle menl. Moreover, although the intensity of the military operations 
it embraced remained about the same, they were perceived as being applied at a 
faster, less flexible pace. For example, in a comment about this option on 14 
November, Admiral Mustin wrote: 

. . . while the Joint Chiefs of Staff offer the capability for pursuing 
Option B as defined, they have not explicitly recommended that the opera- 
tions be conducted on a basis necessarily that inflexible. All implementing 
plans . . . would per mit susp ension whenever desifed^ by national authority. 

Perceptions of Option C became more like B. Initially, the additional pressures 
in C were conceived as "additional forceful measures and military moves." They 
included such operations as extension of the current armed escort of reconnais- 
sance flights in Laos to full-fledged armed route reconnaissance — gradually lead- 
ing to similar attacks against infiltration routes in the southern border regions of 
North Vietnam. The initial Option C also provided for authorization of the 
already planned for cross-border ground operations in Laos and possibly in 
Cambodia. By 8 November, however, the pressure portion of this option was 
perceived as (1) including eventual attacks against other-than-infiltration targets 

222 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

in North Vietnam and (2) giving "the impression of a steady deliberate ap- 
proach," the pace of which could be quickened if necessary. Moreover, in this 
later development of C, the U.S. negotiating position would be to insist from the 
outset on full acceptance of the current U.S. objectives. Initially this position 
would incorporate certain additional bargaining elements that could drop out in 
the course of discussion. 

This modification of the pressure and negotiation aspects of C led other mem- 
bers of the Working Group to express reservations. Robert Johnson stated that 
this "proposed stitfer version" was little different from B. He argued that the 
only real differences now were (1) a declared willingness to negotiate and (2) 
our unwillingness under C to carry the action through to its ultimate conclusion. 
He cautioned that the new version was unlikely to produce the hoped-for ad- 
vantages of "pure C" and that it could convince the Communists that our nego- 
tiatory spirit was not sincere. Enclosed with his comments were the views of the 
CIA„-member, who also believed there would be confusion between B and the 
new C — particularly as observed by the DRV. Other reservations were expressed 
by Assistant Secretary McNaughton, who urged that the proposed pace of the 
new C be„slowed„down. This would be accomplished by dividing the additional 
pressure [words illegible] in Laos as part of the first phase. The OSD representa- 
tive also urged not yielding to pressures to participate in a Geneva conference 
until after several military actions had been taken against the DRV. Of all the 
reservations stated above, only the last (delaying Geneva participation) was re- 
flected in subsequent descriptions of Option C. 

Even Option A was altered to some extent. The main emphasis for A continued 
to be the currently adopted policies. At some time prior to 8 November (when 
the final analysis was drafted), interest was shown in an "extended A." This 
version retained the policy of resisting negotiations in hope that the situation 
would improve, but it incorporated low-level pressure action akin to the early 
stages of C. The type and intensity of the action "would vary in direct propor- 
tion to our success in convincing the world and our own public of the truth 
about Hanoi's support, direction and control of the VC." It might begin with 
armed reconnaissance in Laos, include greater naval activity along the coast, and 
gradually phase into strikes against LOG targets in North Vietnam. In terms of 
military actions alone, extended A resembled closely the initial version of C. 
However, it was conceded that even an extended Option A did not offer a very 
promising means for moving toward negotiations. 

Why did these changes take place? The available documentary materials do 
not make this entirely clear. One factor which may have influenced the modifica- 
tions in all three of the options was recognition of the problem of conflicting 
signals that could result from reprisal actions. If reprisals were designed to be 
forceful and punitive and intended to match the seriousness of VC provocations, 
they might be so strong as to interfere with the messages to Hanoi which it was 
originally intended would be conveyed by the graduated pressures. Indeed, it was 
pointed out that operations orders already developed by CINCPAC for retalia- 
tion in response to attacks on DE SOTO Patrols (should they be resumed) were 
"of magnitude which would not be politically viable" except under extremely 
serious provocations. Moreover, it was feared that improperly orchestrated re- 
prisals might create undue international pressures for negotiations that could 
upset the negotiating strategy appropriate for the selected option. 

Both A and B may have been altered as a result of changes made in C. The 
objections raised to the new C may have encouraged Chairman Bundy to in- 
clude an extended A that was closer in the military sense to his and Mc- 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 223 

Naughton's original concept of graduated pressures. Moreover, it had been 
pointed out that the same negotiating situations seen as appropriate for C (to 
include discussions of Laos and/or Cambodia as well as South Vietnam) could 
also apply to eventual negotiations arrived at through A. Besides, with the stiffen- 
ing of the C negotiating formula, the distinctions between the respective bargain- 
ing positions for A and C had become somewhat blurred. Option B's faster pace 
in expanding operations may have been an attempt to make a clear distinction 
between it and the new C. Use of the term "fast/full squeeze" in reference to 
Option B began concurrently with descriptions of the stiffer version of Option C. 

In addition, it is possible that the emphasis on a fast-paced B, with its harsher 
measures, was motivated in part by a desire to make this option unattractive to 
higher authority. This may explain the rather perplexed tone of the previously 
cited Mustin comment comparing the JCS and Working Group approaches. 
Other than the JCS member, most of the Working Group members appear to 
have favored less intensive measures than those being advocated by the military. 
Despite a sense of high stakes in Southeast Asia, which was shared by several 
members and other interested officials, many of these persons did not want the 
United States to plunge ahead with deeply committing actions as long as there 
was some doubt about the GVN's durability and commitment. 

Not incompatible with the foregoing argument is a possible additional ex- 
planation for the stiffening of Option C. As U.S. objectives came to be viewed 
somewhat less flexibly, it is possible that dominant elements in the Working 
Group thought it advisable to make C into a tougher position. There is little 
question that Option C was the natural heir of the concept of graduated pressures 
coupled with a negotiated settlement advocated at several points earlier in the 
year. Several of the Working Group members had been instrumental in shaping 
those proposals and were quite naturally attached to them conceptually. Now, 
advocates of the graduated approach were confronted with: (1) greater pressures 
from the JCS and their like-thinkers in the Congress; (2) recognition of little 
flexibility among Administration officials regarding interpretations of national 
interest and objectives; and (3) an increasingly critical situation in South Viet- 
nam. It is likely that these individuals viewed it necessary to stiffen their pre- 
ferred approach in order to improve its compatibility with the current policy 

Whatever the reasons, the options for review and discussions were somewhat 
more closely alike than the original conceptions had been. Option A provided 
for intensified efforts to improve the situation in South Vietnam, and for some- 
what intensified military action in line with current policy. Inside South Vietnam, 
it provided for improvement in the GVN administrative performance and for 
strengthening different elements of the pacification program. These internal 
actions were stressed as necessary regardless of whatever other measures were 
decided on. Option A's provisions for measures outside the country included: 

(1) continuing and increasing the GVN's covert maritime harassment program; 

(2) resuming the DE SOTO Patrol operations; (3) increasing the scope of 
Laotian T-28 attacks on infiltration targets in Laos and (4) when feasible, un- 
dertaking small-scale cross-border GVN ground and air operations into the 
Laotian Panhandle. The option also included individual U.S. reprisal action "not 
only against such incidents as the Gulf of Tonkin attacks but also against any 
recurrence of VC 'spectaculars' such as Bien Hoa." The aim of these actions 
would be to deter repetitions of and to punish for such actions in South Viet- 
nam, "but not to a degree that would create strong international negotiating 

224 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

Basic to Option A was its provision for "continued rejection of negotiation in 
the hope that the situation will improve." However, it included recognition that 
"the GVN itself, or individual South Vietnamese in potentially powerful posi- 
tions" might initiate "discussions with Hanoi or the Liberation Front." If a 
Icoalition^government were thus arranged, the Working Group believed, "^^^dds 
wei ig that it wQ uldZeventually "be take n over by^Jhe Comrnunist element." In 
the event of such discussions, the U.S. response under Option A might be either 
(1) "stand aside," thus disassociating the United States from such a settlement, 
or (2) "seek to cover a retreat by accepting negotiations" through something 
like a Geneva conference, which might buy additional time. 

Option B provided for everything included in A plus a program of U.S. mili- 
tary pressures against North Vietnam. These were to continue "at a fairly rapid 
pace and without interruption" until the DRV agreed to stop supporting and 
directing the war in South Vietnam and Laos. The pressures were to begin with 
attacks on infiltration targets and increase in intensity; however, the option in- 
cluded provision that an early attack on Phug^Yen airfield and certain key__hridges 
in the northem part of North Vietnam might be required "to reduce the chances 
of DRV interference with the spectrum of actions" that were contemplated. 

Although our public position on negotiations would be "totally inflexible" un- 
der Option B, it provided for recognition of the need to negotiate eventually. 
Under B, this would occur simultaneously with a continuation and escalation of 
the pressures and would be based on "inflexible insistence on our present objec- 
tives." Nevertheless, B acknowledged the need "to deal with channels of [inter- 
national] communication, the UN, and perhaps — despite our strong opposition — 
a reconvened Geneva Conference of some sort" even before we agreed to enter 
into settlement talks. Moreover, while resisting negotiations, the option provided 
for (1) making "the strongest possible public case of the importance, increase, 
and present intolerable level of DRV infiltration" and (2) "strengthening the 
picture of a military situation in South Vietnam requiring the application of 
systematic military force." 

Option C provided for every military action included in A plus "graduated 
military moves against infiltration targets, first in Laos and then in the DRV, 
and then against other targets in North Vietnam." The air strikes on infiltration 
routes within North Vietnam were to be preceded by low-level reconnaissance 
flights over the same general area. Advantage was seen in initiating such measures 
"following either additional VC 'spectaculars' or at least strong additional evi- 
dence of major infiltration." Moreover, Option C made provision for the possi- 
bility of making a "significant ground deployment to the northern part of South 
Vietnam, either in the form of a U.S. combat force or a SEATO-members force" 
as an additional bargaining counter. In any event, C was intended to "give the 
impression of a steady deliberate approach" and "designed to give the U.S. the 
option at any time to proceed or not, to escalate or not, and to quicken the pace 
or not." 

In C, military pressures were to be accompanied by "communications with 
Hanoi and/or Peiping" indicating in essence "a willingness to negotiate in an 
affirmative sense." From the outset "we would be . . . accepting the possibility 
that we might not achieve our full objectives." Accordingly, the concept for C 
included provision for an initial negotiating position that added "certain bargain- 
ing elements" to the basic U.S. objectives. Once negotiations started the military 
pressures would cease. As in B, these would be preceded by a vigorous program 
of public information efforts and political consultations with Congressional lead- 
ers and foreign aflies, surfacing information on DRV infiltration and explaining 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 225 

our rationale for action. The latter would be "that documented DRV illegal 
infiltration of armed and trained insurgents, and over-all DRV direction and 
control of VC insurgency, had now reached an intolerable level and that it was 
now necessary to hit at the infiltration . . . and to bring pressure on Hanoi to 
cease this infiltration and direction." 

c. Significance of Negotiations. One of the most significant aspects of the 
NSC Working Group's analyses was its emphasis on a negotiated settlement as 
the final outcome of contemplated U.S. actions. Regardless of the option selected 
or the pressure actions employed, international negotiations in some form were 
perceived as the means by which the situation in Southeast Asia would ultimately 
be relieved. Even in the event of a unilateral GVN or a South Vietnamese 
splinter negotiation with the NLF, under circumstances of a relatively shallow 
U.S. commitment (Option A), negotiation under a Geneva format was regarded 
as a preferable outcome. However, it is also clear that a parallel aim was to 
insure that pressures on behalf of such negotiations did not become compelling 
before the U.S. bargaining position could be improved. 

Also significant is the fact that the kind of settlement which was seen as the 
purpose of negotiation was one which would end North Vietnam's participation 
in the conflicts in Southeast Asia — and concurrently, also end the United States' 
direct participation (as it was in 1964) in those conflicts. In view of the prevalent 
Administration perception of North Vietnam as instigator and aggressor in the 
conflict within South Vietnam, it is ironic that the Working Group's considera- 
tions of a negotiated settlement did not include the„ problems of a political 
settlement in the South. In the available source materials, this subject was raised 
only_once and even then was not dealt with further. The one instance was in the 
context of Robert Johnson's [words illegible] resulted (one to which the DRV 
in fact complied with our demands to the extent that we ceased our pressure 
actions) "we would then have to consider . . . whether or not to make com- 
promises — such as, for example, accept less than perfection for international 
supervisory mechanism, agree to permit th e NLF to becom e^ legitimate political 
pa rty in the _So_utJi, or agree to political consul tations bet w een_^VN an d D R V..r 
In other words, at the level of the Working Group s analysis, the political stakes 
for which the game in Vietnam was really being played and the very powerful 
and relevant cards h eld by th e^RV and the VC were not really considered. To 
continue the analogy, the Working Group concerned itself only with the various 
opening bids the United States might make in order to achieve a position from 
whicTi it could attempt a finesse. 

The main problem apparently recognized by the Working Group was that, 
given its current objectives, the United States had few bargaining points with 
which to negotiate. In essence, it was primarily to fill this lack that many group 
members and Administration officials favored initiation of direct military pres- 
sures against North Vietnam. To some, bombing attacks were something that 
^^^1L.^}^BJ9^-I?^9y^^ inducement for the DRV to stop or to reduce its 

support of the military operations in South Vietnam and Laos. To others, such 
vigorous measures might at least serve as a demonstration of U.S. resolve to 
combat external aggression but also as a j^reenjbehind which to extract ourselves 
should_the situation in South Vietnam deteriorate further. 

Gaining maximum bargaining advantage from the military measures contem- 
plated under each of the options was one of the major emphases in the Working 
Group's analyses. For example, under A, emphasis was placed on obtaining 
maximum leverage from exploiting the threat of further escalation — to be dem- 

226 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

onstrated primarily through reprisal actions and deployments. Under B, a similar 
kind of psychological leverage was to be achieved through the clearly ascending 
nature of the actions, particularly if some time were permitted to assess results. 
Under C, the effect was to be achieved by the combined effects of ( 1 ) maximiz- 
ing the threat of impending escalation after each graduated and carefully paced 
step and (2) minimizing the Communist governments' problems of "face" as 
they moved toward negotiation. ^ 

It was the recognized lack of strong bargaining poiinT§>that led the Working 
Group to consider the intr oduction of ground forces into the northern provinces 
of South Vietnam. In advancing this proposal, the State Policy Planning Council 
member pointed out that "whatever the stated U.S. intentions," the Communists 
would probably expect to put an end to all air and naval attacks on North 
Vietnam merely by_agreein^ to, enter negotiations. In that event, he gpinted out, 
the United States could not use these pressures (or the promised relief from 
them) as a bargaining counter during negotiations. If ground forces were de- 
ployed prior to an obvious need to combat invading enemy troops, this disposi- 
tion could be read as such a counter. Their deployment, "would, moreover, 
carry with it the threat of subsequent air and naval attacks against North Viet- 
nam. And," he continued, "threat may be as important as execution ... in 
producing desired Communist reactions." 

Although initially advocated as a valuable bargaining piece for all the options, 
the concept of deploying ground forces for this purpose became associated with 
Options A or C. In the former case, it was urged with recognition that . A 
offered little leverage for bargaining other than hoped-for improvement in the 
GVN's internal administration and pacification efforts. For C, it was perceived 
much in the sense in which it was originally proposed — serving as an^jidditional 
ne gotiating ploy before it might be needed as an operational military capacity. 
Such a force was seen as taking either of two forms: (1) a U.S. combat force, 
probably of division strength, or (2) a force composed of contingents from 
certain SEATO members (Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Thailand and the 
Philippines). Interesting, in view of subsequent events, is the fact that participa- 
tion by South Korea and the Republic of China specifically was not to be sought. 
(This may also have been significant of the Administration's tendency at the 
time to view Communist China as co-instigator of the Vietnamese aggression.) 
The contemplated ground force deployment also was seen as serving some auxil- 
iary functions: (1) to deter DRV ground force deployment into South Vietnam; 
(2) by taking blocking positions, to reduce the infiltration into the South through 
Laos; and (3) (in the case of the multi-national force) to improve the internal 
picture of our actions in South Vietnam by virtue of visible international 

As stated previously, the primary bargaining element in Option B was the 
application of clearly ascending military strikes against North Vietnam. These 
would be halted only in return for demonstrated DRV compliance with demands 
that it stop supporting and directing military operations in South Vietnam and 
Laos. It was pointed out that DRV compliance under pressure would be tant a- 
jmount to surrender. Fiirther^^jJ^we insisted that compliance ii(gTude calling ^ ogl 
ja il acts of VC terrorism and-pf resis tance to pacification-efforts in South Vietnam, 
it would mean "vi rtual unconditionaTsurren der." To obtain such high stakes, the 
group recognized that intensive pressures would be required. However, it also 
recognized that the combination of extreme demands and harsh actions would 
be most likely to produce adverse international reaction and increased pressures 
for an early cease-fire and negotiations. 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 227 

The basic political objective perceived for Option B was to "prevent inter- 
national consideration . . . from interfering with our continuing pressures 
against the DRV ualU^he DRV has taken the actions we desire of it." In view 
of the expected,.^dgmands for _arL_earlx3ea-se^re, it was believed advisable to 
present the U.S. case in the United Nations at the time B military operations 
were initiated. The ensuing discussions would likely consume considerable time. 
Moreover, taking such initiatives would avoid the defensive posture that the 
United States would be placed in if our military actions were introduced Jtox^ 
conde mnatory purp oses b y another gover nment. The Working Group stressed 
that under Option B, the United States sh ould firmly resist a Geneva-type co n- 
ferencejjn til it had obtained assurances of DRV compliance with its demand^ 
Should the pressures for negotiatidrPbecoine loo formidable to resist and^dis^ 
cussions begin before a Communist agreement to comply, it was stressed that the 
United States should define its negotiating position "in a way which makes Com- 
munist acceptance uiiHkely." In this manner it would be made "very likely that 
the conference would break up rather rapidly," thus enabling our military pres- 
sures to be resumed. 

The only option that provided for bargaining in the usual sense of the word 
was Option C. The Working Group intended that with the initiation of this option 
and the U.S. declaration of willingness to negotiate, the Administration would 
have embarked on a bargaining_course. In the group's view, we would stick to 
our full objectives at the_outset "but we would have to accept the possibility' 
that, as the whole situation developed, we might not achieve those full objectives 
unless we were prepared to take the greater risks envisaged under Option B." 
In such circumstances, it acknowledged, "it might become desirable to settle for ■ 
less t han co mplete assurances on our key objectives." 

Accepting in principle the possib le need to comprornisejhe initial U.S._p.osi- y^j-^-^ 
tio n under Op tionX. the Working Group specified a somewhat hardened defini- c^S^ 
tion of that position. The initial negotiating objective ("the complete termination 
of DRV support to the insurgency . . .") was refined to specify that it in- 
corporated three fundamentals: (a) that the DRV cease its assistance to and 
direction of the VC; (b) that an independent and secure GVN be reestablished; 
and (c) that there be adequate international supervisory machinery." Specific 
areas of "give" for the bargaining process were identified as the question of Jxee 
elec tions a nd the de gree of verificat ion we would require. The group further 
provided that during negotiations the intensity with which the United States 
would pursue its initial objectives would vary with the extent of improvement 
within the GVN. If the situation in South Vietnam got better, the United States 
would press harder for acceptance of its initial position. If the situation grew 
worse, "we would have to decide whether to intensify our military actions, 
modify _our ne gotiating positions, or both." 

Because of a declared willingness to negotiate from the outset, the approach 
to a negotiating situation under Option C was viewed by the Working Group as 
considerably different from that under Option B. Whereas, in the latter case it 
was believed that the UN would provide the most useful medium for discussions, 
the preferred approach under Option C was through a Geneva-type meeting. 
The channels, both direct and indirect, to Hanoi were not believed useful for 
negotiating. The UN was viewed as presenting a special problem because of the 
approaching annual issue of Communist China's membership. For this reason 
the Working Group felt that it would not provide an efi'ective negotiating forum 
until late February or March 1965, although it acknowledged the necessity of 
presenting the U.S. case before the Security Council. In view of these considera- 

228 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

tions, the Working Group viewed it most desirable to yield to the expected 
pressure for a Geneva conference — but only after conducting "a number of 
military actions against the DRV." 

d. Perceived Reactions to Options. The Working Group evaluated the rela- 
tive advantages and disadvantages of the three options and concluded that Option 
C provided the most promising course of action. The evaluation was based on 
three general criteria: (1) likely reactions of allied and non-aligned foreign gov- 
ernments; (2) reactions within South Vietnam; and (3) effectiveness in bringing 
desired responses from the Communist government. With respect to the first, the 
group reported : 

Option A would cause no adverse reactions but if it failed it would leave 
. a considerab le after-tas te of U.S. fa jlure and ineptitude; Option B would 
[ run major risks of sharpl^T^x^ressed^^ndemnatioh^^ would be erased 

I only if the course of actiorrsuccee3ed'~qm!e'^^ and in reasonable time; 

' Option C would probably be in between in both respects. 

With respect to the remaining criteria, Option A seemed likely to achieve little 
more than buying some time, and in some respects it appeared counterproductive. 
While Option B was viewed as standing "a greater chance than either of the 
other two of attaining our objectives," it also was seen as running "considerably 
higher risks of major military conflict with Hanoi and possibl^^_Oommunist China." 
On balance. Option C was considered "more controllable and less risky of major 
military action" than B and more likely "to achieve at least part of our objec- 
tives" than A. 

The Working Group reported that Option A appeared to offer "little hope of 
getting Hanoi out or an independent South Vietnam re-established." It was recog- 
nized that the actions included in this option could not physically affect the 
extent of infiltration from the North and would not be likely to affect Hanoi's 
determination to continue its policies. At best, the group believed, "they might 
. . . keep the DRV from engaging in further spectaculars, and thus keep the 
scale of the conflict in the south within some limits." However, Option A was 
conceded little chance of contributing to an improved GVN, in the short 
period of additional time its effects might possibly make available. The group 
recognized sagging morale and doubts concerning U.S. intentions as the "most 
immediate problem" in South Vietnam. Several members felt that without further 
U.S. actions, political collapse was imminent — that to add only reprisals for 
VC spectaculars might lift morale immediately, but would not have lasting effect. 
At best, under A, it was believed that the gradual deterioration in the country- 
side of South Vietnam would continue. 

Although the Working Group viewed a decision to continue Option A indefi- 
nitely as ruling out either B or C, it did suggest the possibility of extending A 
to its limits and gradually phasing into operations like those in Option C. It was 
suggested that this might, over time, generate "favorable, or at least not unfavor- 
able," domestic and international reaction which along with the increasing cost 
of gradual disruption in North Vietnam might cause Hanoi to slow^dxiwn its 
infiltration. However, the result of this process, at best, would be a gradual im- 
provement of the U.S. position without advancement toward a meaningful set- 
tlement. Lacking a deliberate attempt to phase into something like C, Option A 
was viewed as "an indefinite course of action." As such, its "sole advantages" 
were seen as : 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 229 

(a) defeat would be clearly due to GVN^ailure, and we ourselves would 
be less implicated than if we tried Option B or Option C, ancTfailed; 

(b) the most likely result would be a Vietnamese-negotiated deal, under 
which an eventually unified Communist Vietnam would reassert its tradi- 
tional hostility to Communist China and limits its own ambitions to Laos 
and Cambodia. 

The group's assessment went on to indicate that should this occur, Thailand 
would likely conclude that "we simply could not be counted on, and would ac- 
commodate somehow to Communist China even without any marked military 
move by Communist China." 

The Working Group reported that the actions in Option B offered a number 
of unique advantages relative to the other options: 

1. Option B probably stands a greater chance than either of the other 
two of attaining our objectives vis-a-vis Hanoi and a settlement in South 

2. Our display of real muscle in action would undoubtedly have a salu- 
tary effect on the morale of the rest of non-Communist Asia. 

3. The course of military events vis-a-vis Communist China might give 
us a defensi ble case to destroy_the^ ^Chinese Communist nuc lear production 

However, Option B was also seen to present some unique problems and to 
possibly lead to some undesirable results. For example, most of the group be- 
lieved Option B would risk an impairment of the "U.S. standing in NATO and 
European framework." The option was believed likely to produce a major con- 
flict, and these effects were seen as quite probable if it "produced anything less 
than an early and completely satisfactory outcome." Problems were also perceived 
at home. It was pointed out that any U.S.-initiated military pressures against 
NorfE Vietnam should be consistent with the provisions of the Joint Congressional 
Resolution passed following the Tonkin Gulf incidents, but that Option B would 
be difficult to justify under the authorities cited in this resolution. 

Characterizing the use of force in the context of this alternative as a 
legitimate exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense in 
response to an "armed attack" from the North would be a majo r public 
relations effort. 

Moreover, given the pace and likely intensity of escalation in this option, it was 
suggested that "the constitutional prerogatives of the Congress, for example, to 
declare war [would] become pertinent." 

As seen by the Working Group, the most disturbing aspect of Option B was 
its almost irreversible commitment to a major military effort, the ultimate na- 
ture of which was difficult to predict. That Hanoi would yield to U.S. demands 
at an early stage of B was considered unlikely. The chances were considered "sig- 
nificantly greater" that the DRV would retaliate, either by air attacks on the 
South or a ground offensive either in Laos or into South Vietnam. It was con- 
sidered mo^ likely, however, that Hanoi would continue to hold firm, thus re- 
quiring the United States to "up the ante militarily." With further increases in 
our military pressure, the group argued, "the odds would necessarily start to 
increase that Hanoi . . . would either start to yield by some real actions to cut 

230 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol III 

down, or would move itself to a more drastic military response." The Working 
Group then cautioned: 

; We could find ourselves drawn into a situation where such military ac- 
tions as an amphibious landing in the DRV — proposed as one of our further 
actions — moved us very far toward continuin g occ upation of DRV soil, 
i Alternatively, the volume of international noise . . . could reach the point 
I [where, in the interest of our world-wide objectives, we would have to con- 
Hsider accepting a negotiation on terms that would relatively but not neces- 
^sarily be wholly favorable to the attainment of our full objectives. 

Option C was particularly attractive to the Working Group because it was 
believed to be more controllable and, therefore, less deeply committing than B. 
The reactions to C expected by the Working Group differed from B primarily 
as a result of the U.S. negotiating posture. The initial strikes against targets in 
North Vietnam were seen as a "first break-point," marking the beginning of ma- 
jor international pressures for negotiation. Communist reactions to the early 
pressures were regarded as little different from B. Some change of military 
response was conceded, but it was thought more likely that the DRV would 
"hold firm while stimulating condemnation of [the United States] by world 
opinion, and, if in negotiations, take a tough position." Under C, however, our 
response would not necessarily be an immediate increase in pressure. If the GVN 
situation had improved, "we would try to capitalize on [it] ... by pressing 
harder for acceptance of our initial negotiating position." Barring success, the 
pressures would continue, and the Working Group recognized that the likely 
dragging out of the war at this point would probably lead to a resumption of 
deteriorating trends in South Vietnam. It stated: "In this case, we would have 
to decide whether to intensify our military actions, modify our negotiating posi- 
tions or both." If U.S. military measures were increased at this point, it was 
expected that "there would be a progressively increasing chance of major Com- 
munist military response," such as those considered under B. If the U.S. negoti- 
ating position were modified at this point, the group perceived a "major prob- 
lem, in that key nations on both sides would suspect that we were getting ready 
for a way out." Therefore, it suggested that additional military actions, possibly 
including greater deployments to Southeast Asia, would need to accompany the 
modifying moves. 

The major disadvantages of Option C acknowledged by the Working Group 
was its tendency to "stretch-out" the confrontation and expose the United 
States to an increasing variety of pressures and criticism. For example, the group 
acknowledged that GVN morale and effectiveness were likely to suffer at several 
points in the course of the options: (1) upon initial U.S. agreement to enter 
negotiations; (2) as it became clear that the war was dragging on; and (3) 
with modification of the U.S. negotiating position. It also recognized several 
measures that the Communists might take during a prolonged, indecisive period 
to reduce our initial advantage: (1) improving air defenses in North Vietnam; 
(2) deploying Chinese ground forces southward; and (3) hardening their propa- 
ganda. While increasing the enemy's public commitment to its current line of 
policy, these measures would not serve as clear acts of escalation. 

These difficulties and other uncertainties encompassed by Option C illustrate 
the intensity with which most members of the NSC Working Group wanted the 
United States to couple limited military commitments with a negotiated settle- 
ment to relieve our position in Vietnam. 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 231 

United States policy in Southeast Asia was fraught with real contradictions. 
For example, the one feature that gave Option C its most distinctive character 
— early wilHngness to negotiate without the concurrent effects of continually 
mounting mihtary pressures — was its most uncertain aspect. This particular part 
of the analysis was revised twice between the final drafting of the group's findings 
and their considerations by the Principals. Moreover, the Working Group had 
received at least one informed judgment to the effect that, given Hanoi's high 
stakes in South Vietnam and its perceived opportunity to deal the United States 
a major blow, the DRV would not be likely to negotiate in response to any of 
the options. On the eve of the initial meeting with the Principals, Chairman 
Bundy called early negotiations "the least satisfactory part of the present script." 
In particular, it was recognized as difficult to "keep up our show of determina- 
tion and at the same time listen for nibbles." 

In many respects Option C seems to have been favored primarily for what it 
incorporated — for the means it employed — rather than for what it might achieve. 
It certainly was not presented as an optimistic ahernative. Under C, the group 
perceived that "at best . . . the DRV might feign compliance and settle for an 
opportunity to subvert the South another day." This stood in marked contrast to 
what it perceived as the "at best" outcome of B, namely that Hanoi "might be 
ready to sit down and work out a settlement in some form that would give a 
restoration of the 1954 agreements," hopefully with firmer guarantees. Moreover, 
with C, the group believed that in between the best and worst outcomes, the 
United States "might be faced with no improvement in the internal South Vietnam 
situation and with the difficult decision whether to escalate on up to major con- 
flict with China." This kind of outcome promised little more than the group per- 
ceived as available through A — and without the additional commitment of na- 
tional prestige and military force. But it was an outcome readily perceivable from 
a policy that clung tenaciously to rather major objectives but was reticent to 
accept major risks. 

5. Views from Outside the NSC Working Group 

While the NSC Working Group was preparing its findings for submission to 
the Principals, other sources of influential opinion were communicating their 
views to these individuals. In addition, it is important to consider that members 
of the Working Group were most likely communicating their respective impres- 
sions of group progress to the principal official in the agencies they represented. 
Thus, William Bundy no doubt shared ideas with Secretary Rusk; John Mc- 
Naughton with Secretary McNamara; Harold Ford with CIA Director McCone; 
and Admiral Mustin with General Wheeler. Some of these Principals no doubt 
had injected particular ideas into the group's deliberations. Whatever the source, 
these high officials were exposed to a variety of suggestions and viewpoints 
before reacting directly to the Working Group. 

The following sections deal with two rather significant sources of ideas whose 
communications reached Secretary MacNamara. However, their views were 
known to other members of the Principals Group as well, through the normal 
inter-departmental coordination procedures. These proposals are significant also 
because of their rather contending viewpoints on the subject of U.S. courses of 

a. JCS Views. On four different occasions during the period of the Working 
Group's existence, the JCS submitted formal proposals for direct military strikes 

232 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

against North Vietnamese targets. On each occasion they took pains to remind 
the Secretary of Defense and other readers of their earher recommendation for 
a preferred course of action, which involved a systematic pattern of air attacks 
on major targets. 

On 14 November, two such recommendations were made. One was intended 
to bring about expansion of the GVN's covert operations, to include "air strikes 
by unmarked aircraft" of the VNAF. It specified that these were to be "separate 
and distinct from larger (more decisive) air strike actions recommended . . . 
on 1 November 1964." The JCS stated that such smaller attacks would be useful 
in: (1) continuing the pressure on the DRV; (2) encouraging GVN leaders; 
(3) providing useful air defense data; and (4) demonstrating patterns of DRV/ 
Chinese reactions that could be helpful in planning larger operations. The other 
recommendations came in response to Secretary McNamara's request to examine 
possible DRV/CHICOM military reactions to U.S. air strikes against North Viet- 
nam. In answer, they discussed various Communist military alternatives and U.S. 
means to counter them, and they described what they viewed as the most likely 
enemy reactions. These, they felt, would be primarily in the propaganda and 
diplomatic spheres because of what was perceived as China's general reluctance 
to become direcdy involved in conflict with the United States. In addition, the 
JCS repeated their recommendations of 4 November (with respect to the VC 
attacks on Bien Hoa) as retaliatory actions equally applicable to any other seri- 
ous provocations. They went on to recommend deployments "to improve capa- 
bihties to conduct the program of air strikes" recommended on 4 November 

Four days later they submitted another proposal, in response to Secretary 
McNamara's interest in a possible program of graduated U.S. pressures against 
North Vietnam. [Doc. 234] This possibility was described as "a controlled pro- 
gram of systematically increased military pressures against the Democratic Re- 
public of Vietnam (DRV) applied in coordination with appropriate political 
pressures." (Interestingly, the Secretary's interest was expressed on the same 
day as McNaughton's reactions to the draft analysis of Option C.) The JCS 
referred to their statements of 4 and 14 November, describing their preferred 
course of action for causing the DRV "to cease supporting and directing the 
insurgencies" in South Vietnam and Laos. However, they also proposed an al- 
ternative series of specific actions, "should a controlled program of systematically 
increased pressures . . . be directed." This would: 

"a. [Word illegible] the willingness and determination of the United States 
to employ increasing force in support of ... an independent and stable non- 
communist government in RVN and a free and neutral Laos. . . . 

"b. Reduce, progressively, DRV support of the insurgencies in RVN and 
Laos to the extent necessary to tip the balance clearly in favor of the Govern- 
ments of RVN and Laos by: 

(1) Reduction of the amount of support available through destruction of 
men, material, and supporting facilities; 

(2) . . . [and] through diversion of DRV resources to increased home- 
land defenses and alerts; and 

(3) Reduction of the rate of delivery of available support through destruc- 
tion of bridges and other LOC choke points . . . and through inter- 
ruption of movements. . . . 

"c. Punish the DRV for DRV-supported military actions by the Viet Cong/ 
Pathet Lao. . . . 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 233 

"d. Terminate the conflict in Laos and RVN only under conditions which 
would result in the achievement of U.S. objectives." 

The final JCS proposal to be submitted relative to the "courses of action" 
debate in November 1964 came in direct response to the NSC Working Group's 
draft papers, circulated to interested agencies for comment on 17 November. 
Criticizing the group's assessment of U.S. stakes and interests, the JCS called 
Southeast Asia "an area of major strategic importance to the United States, 
the loss of which would lead to grave political and military consequences in the 
entire Western Pacific, and to serious political consequences world-wide." They 
reiterated their view that the best probability of success in attaining the cur- 
rently recognized U.S. objectives in that region would be "by achieving the 
prerequisite objective of causing the cessation of DRV support and direction of 
the insurgencies in RVN and Laos." 

The JCS also criticized the three options described by the Working Group and 
outlined five alternatives to them, in an ascending order of intensity: 

1. Terminate commitments in South Vietnam and Laos and withdraw as 
gracefully as possible. The JCS called this "implicit in the context of the Work- 
ing Group paper. 

2. Continue actions contained within present policies, including reprisals for 
VC provocations. The JSC identifies this as the group option A but stated that 
the added demands it placed on the DRV were "not commensurate with those 
proposed by DRV on RVN." In essence, they agreed with the Working Group's 
evaluation that this alternative would neither accomplish our objectives nor al- 
leviate the critical situation in South Vietnam. 

3. Undertake graduated military and political initiatives to apply additional 
pressures against the DRV 

without necessarily determining in advance to what degree we will commit 
ourselves to achieve our objectives, or at what point we might stop to nego- 
tiate, or what our negotiating objectives might be. 

The JCS stated that this alternative corresponded to the NSC Working Group's 
Option C, which they criticized for its "uncertain pace" and because it did not 
include "a clear determination to see things through in full." They argued that 
such an "inconclusive" option "could permit and encourage enemy build-ups to 
counter our own," and thus "raise the risks and costs to us of each separate 
military undertaking." 

4. Undertake a "controlled program" of graduated military and political 
pressures, based on an "advanced decision to continue military pressures, if 
necessary, to the full limit of what military actions can contribute toward U.S. 
national objectives." The JCS called this "a variant and logical extension" of 
Option C and cited their proposal of 18 November as a detailed description of it. 

5. Undertake a "controlled program of intense military pressures . . . de- 
signed to have major military and psychological impact from the outset, and 
accompanied by appropriate political pressures." The JCS offered this alterna- 
tive in lieu of the Working Group's Option B which they stated "is not a valid 
formulation of any authoritative views known to the JCS." In particular, they 
specified that their intensive program would 

be undertaken on the basis that it would be carried through, if necessary, to 
the full limit of what military actions can contribute toward national objec- 
tives; it would be designed, however, for suspension short of those limits 
if objectives were earlier achieved. 

234 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/VoL III 

For a full description of this alternative, they referred to their proposal of 14 

The last two alternatives provided for sizable force build-ups that "should 
make miscalculation of U.S. resolve less likely." Option C was objectionable in 
their view because it did not provide "a clear set of agreed military objectives" 
and because it provided for "the contingency that as developments are analyzed, 
it may be thought expedient to settle for less than completed achievement of our 
objectives for RVN and Laos." It is important to note that in outlining the last 
two options, the JCS stressed that they called for "controlled" programs. In the 
mode of Admiral Mustin's memorandum, referred to earlier, they were apparently 
attempting to combat the Working Group's inferences that the more intensive 
actions which the JCS advocated were not controllable. It is fairly clear that 
group members favoring Option C had tagged the extreme Option B with a JCS 

b. Rostow Views. Whereas the JCS emphasized damaging actions, designed 
to affect Hanoi's will by destroying a significant portion of their capability, Walt 
Rostow urged a different approach. [Doc. 238] In his view, emphasis should 
have been placed on signalling to Hanoi and Peking our commitment to use our 
vast resources to whatever extent required to reinstate effectively the provisions 
of the 1954 and 1962 Geneva Accords. 

With respect to military moves most useful for this purpose, Rostow com- 
municated to Secretary McNamara his concern that "too much thought is being 
given to the actual damage we do in the North, not enough thought to the sig- 
nal we wish to send." Outlining a concept similar to the earliest Option C, he 
urged that the initial use of additional force against North Vietnam "should be 
as limited and unsanguinary as possible" and that it 

should be designed merely to install the principle that [the DRV] will, from 
the present forward, be vulnerable to . . . attack . . . for continued viola- 
tions of the 1954 and 1962 Accords. In other words, we would signal a shift 
from the principle involved in the Tonkin Gulf response. 

Even more important, in his view, would be the signals communicated by addi- 
tional military moves in the Southeast Asia region. He urged deploying U.S. 
ground forces to South Vietnam and large-scale retaliatory forces into the West- 
ern Pacific. Besides their value as a bargaining counter, Rostow saw a ground 
force commitment as a clear signal that "we are prepared to face down any form 
of escalation North Vietnam might mount on the ground." He argued that such 
a move would rule out "the possibility of [the Communists] radically extending 
their position on the ground at the cost of air and naval damage alone." He 
stated that the increased retaliatory forces would signal : 

that we are putting in place a capacity subsequently to step up [words 
illegible] be required; [and] that we are putting forces into place to exact 
retaliation directly against Communist China, if Peiping should join in an 
escalatory response from Hanoi. 

The broader context of Rostow's views on military action was described for 
Secretary Rusk on the eve of the first meeting of the Principals to discuss the 
Working Group's findings. Stating his agreement with those portions of the 
latest intelligence estimate which stressed the Asian Communist powers' desire 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964— Jan. 1965 235 

not to become involved in a direct conflict with the United States, he framed 
the "most basic" U.S. problem as follov^^s: 

. . . how to persuade [the Communists] that a continuation of their pres- 
ent policy will risk major destruction in North Vietnam; that a preemptive 
move on the ground as a prelude to negotiation will be met by U.S. 
strength on the ground; and that Communist China will not be a sanctuary 
if it assists North Vietnam in counter-escalation. 

He then repeated his prescription of military moves earlier urged on Secretary 
McNamara. However, he stressed that these moves would not, "in themselves, 
constitute a decisive signal." More significant in Communist eyes, he felt, would 
be signals to answer the question: 

Is the President of the United States deeply committed to reinstalling the 
1954-62 Accords; or is he putting on a demonstration of force that would 
save face for, essentially a U.S. political defeat at a diplomatic conference? 

In Rostow's view, the Communists would not accept a setback until they were 
absolutely certain that the United States really meant business — an assessment 
that could only come as a result of firm public commitments on the part of the 
President and appropriate follow-through actions. He stated: 

I have no doubt we have the capacity to achieve a reinstallation of the 
1954-1962 Accords if we enter the exercise with the same determination and 
staying power that we entered the long test on Berlin and the short test 
on the Cuba missiles. But it will take that kind of Presidential commitment 
and staying power. 

Acknowledging that the kind of conflict we faced lent itself to prolonged un- 
certainties and that the Communists could pretend to call off the guerrilla war, 
only to revive it again, he stressed the need to maintain pressure on them for 
some time. The installation of ground forces and a "non-sanguinary" naval 
blockade were suggested for this purpose. Rostow urged trying "to gear this 
whole operation with the best counter-insurgency effort we can mount with our 
Vietnamese friends . . . and not withdraw U.S. forces from Vietnam until the 
war is truly under control." 

In closing, Rostow outlined a scenario of action that would follow from the 
kind of Presidential decision described above. This would include, in sequence: 

( 1 ) Immediate movement of relevant forces to the Pacific. 

(2) Immediate direct communication to Hanoi . . . including a clear state- 
ment of the limits of our objectives but our absolute commitment to 

(3) Should this first communication fail (as is likely) installation of our 
ground forces and naval blockade, plus first attack in North, to be 
accompanied by publication [of a report on infiltration] and Presi- 
dential speech. 

Thus, in their communications to senior officials in the latter half of November, 
both Walt Rostow and the ICS stressed a similar point. Although advocating 
different solutions, they both emphasized that the Administration could not 

236 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

expect to dissuade Hanoi and Peking from continued pursuit of the DRV's im- 
portant and strongly-held commitments without making correspondingly strong 
commitments to resist them. The JCS, for their own reasons, sought to avoid a 
commitment of ground forces to Vietnam and argued instead for punitive air 
and naval actions. Rostow felt that by forceful and meaningful demonstrations of 
national resolve, including the commitment of ground forces to South Vietnam, 
direct use of force against the Communist nations need be minimal. 


The efforts of the NSC Working Group were intended to be completed in 
preparation for a major policy review late in November 1964. Plans were made 
for Ambassador Taylor to return to Washington from Saigon to join in a series 
of strategy meetings. The expectations were that the meetings would result in a 
Presidential action order to supersede the one issued following the high-level con- 
ference in September (NSAM 314). 

Meetings with the President were scheduled for the week following Thanks- 
giving, when he returned from his working holiday at the ranch. Preliminary 
meetings between Ambassador Taylor and the principal officials from agencies 
with national security interests in Southeast Asia were held during the preced- 
ing weekend, 27-29 November. The whole episode took place amid widespread 
speculation that a major policy change was imminent and rumors that Taylor 
had returned to insist on the bombing of infiltration targets in North Vietnam 
and Laos. Public and Congressional speculation ran so high on the eve of the 
meetings that the White House and State Department sought to dampen it with 
statements that Taylor's reported comments "were not policy" and that his return 
did not mean that "any great, horrendous decision" would result. 

1. Reactions of Principals to Working Group Analyses 

Before their meetings with Taylor and the President, the Principals in Wash- 
ington met to consider the Working Group's findings and to assess the major 
issues affecting future U.S. courses of action. Just prior to their initial gathering, 
on 24 November, William Bundy had forwarded a list of questions and com- 
ments pertaining to the Working Group's findings, and these served as a kind of 
agenda. [Doc. 239] Included were such issues as: (1) whether the relative ad- 
vantages among the three options were actually as evident as the group had found; 
(2) whether or not the papers' assessment of U.S. stakes in Southeast Asia 
should be revised in the direction of JCS attitudes; (3) whether the actions as- 
sociated with the various options could in fact be carried out to achieve the 
results expected; and (4) whether a deployment of ground forces to South 
Vietnam would in fact provide any advantages. 

a. Consensus Among NSC Officials. As the Principals' meeting opened. Secre- 
tary Rusk raised an issue that was high among Administration concerns — 
namely, that the American public was worried about the chaos in the GVN, and 
particularly with respect to its viability as an object of an increased U.S. com- 
mitment. Secretary McNamara and General Wheeler conceded the propriety of 
this concern but warned that the situation in the GVN would only get worse if 
additional steps were not taken to reverse present trends. Rusk then presented 
a question which addressed the whole rationale for contemplated U.S. courses 
of action. He asked whether the situation in South Vietnam could be improved 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 237 

in time to save it if the DRV were not to withdraw its support. CIA Director 
McCone conceded that the VC would still have plenty of capability remaining 
but expressed the view that the situation could be coped with from the stand- 
point of internal security criteria. At this point Under Secretary of State George 
Ball asked if bombing North Vietnam could improve the situation in South 
Vietnam directly. McNamara replied that it could not unless the bombing ac- 
tually cut down infiltration into the South, After agreeing with the Rusk com- 
ment that the struggle would be a long one, even with the DRV out of it, the 
group reached consensus that South Vietnam could be made secure, provided 
the Saigon government could maintain itself. This was the first of several major 
policy judgments reached in the course of the meeting. 

Other points of clear consensus (with no more than a single dissenting 
opinion) were as follows: 

(2) That the situation in South Vietnam would deteriorate further under 
Option A even with reprisals, but that there was a "significant chance" 
that the actions proposed under B or C would result in an improved 
GVN performance and "make possible" an improved security situa- 
tion (George Ball indicated doubt) . 

(3) That any negotiating outcome under Option A (with or without U.S. 
negotiating participation) probably would be clearly worse than under 
Option B or C. 

(4) That it was doubtful (contrary to the view expressed in the Working 
Group papers) that Option B would have the best chance of achieving 
the full U.S. objectives (General Wheeler expressed agreement with 
the Working Group statement) . 

(5) That the requirement of Option C, "that we maintain a credible 
threat of major action while at the same time seeking to negotiate," 
could be carried out despite acknowledged public pressures. 

(6) That the Administration could safely assume that South Vietnam 
could "only come apart for morale reasons, and not in a military 
sense," as a result of intensified VC effort. 

(7) That early military actions against North Vietnam under Option C 
should be determined, but low in scale (General Wheeler disagreed, 
stating that our losses might be higher in the long run with such an 
approach) . 

(8) That the loss of South Vietnam would be more serious than stated in 
Section II of the Working Group's draft papers and that the Adminis- 
tration's assessment should be revised at least in the direction of the 
JCS viewpoint (George Ball argued against this judgment) . 

The context of the Principals' discussion of this last point contained some 
significant expressions of opinion. Secretary Rusk stated the viewpoint that the 
confidence of other nations in the United States would be affected by the loss 
of South Vietnam despite their possible indifference to the political struggle in 
Southeast Asia. He added that if we did nothing to affect the course of events 
in Vietnam it would have the effect of giving more to De Gaulle. However, 
Rusk did not accept the Working Group's rationale that we would obtain inter- 
national credit merely for trying. In his view, the harder we tried and then failed, 
the worse our situation would be. McGeorge Bundy disagreed with this last 
point, except to acknowledge that to attempt something like Option B and then 
quit would clearly be damaging. Secretary McNamara seemed to support the 

238 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

(McGeorge) Bundy view, stating that B followed by failure would clearly be 
worse than Option C followed by a compromise settlement. George Ball ex- 
pressed strong agreement with the last Rusk point, saying that De Gaulle would 
portray us as being foolish and reiterating that the damage to U.S. prestige 
would worsen if we tried either B or C and failed. General Wheeler stated the 
opinion that to do little or nothing at this point would be an act of bad faith. 
Mr. McCone pointed out a perpetual dilemma if the Administration continued 
to act despite South Vietnamese deterioration; hence, he urged great care. 

It is interesting to note the views and associations of the two occasional dis- 
senters in the series of consensus judgments rendered by the Principals. Gen- 
eral Wheeler, Chairman of the ICS, expressed viewpoints consistent throughout 
with the recorded ICS views of future courses of action. On the other hand, 
George Ball, Under Secretary of State, had no obvious jurisdictional or institu- 
tional influences to affect his judgments. Nevertheless, known to Administration 
observers as "the devil's advocate," he had developed something of a reputa- 
tion as an independent thinker. At about the time of the Working Group de- 
liberations, for example, he developed a paper suggesting U.S. diplomatic strategy 
in the event of imminent GVN collapse. In it, he advocated working through the 
UK, who would in turn seek cooperation from the USSR, in arranging an inter- 
national conference (of smaller proportions than those at Geneva) at which to 
work out a compromise political settlement for South Vietnam. In addition, Ball's 
prevalent occupation with European affairs may have influenced him to view 
Southeast Asia as of lesser importance to the U.S. national interest. 

; 9c' r 

b. Views Backing Consensus. Also discussed at the 24 Noyember Principals' 
meeting were several issues on which consensus was not reached. Most of these 
related to immediate U.S. actions that would need to be taken irrespective of the 
option selected, or to problems faced in carrying out a particular option. Since 
earlier agreements had indicated little interest in Option A, only B and C were 
examined further. 

Discussion of Option B dealt primarily with questions of the intensity of blows 
that might be struck in North Vietnam. With respect to whether DRV airfields 
should be struck early or as a part of a more gradual sequence, General Wheeler 
pointed out that ea rly strikes on airfields were what made B operations so dif- 
ferent. It was these strikes at potential DRV "capabilities to interfere with U.S. 
attacks, or to retaliate, that made systematic, intensive air operations possible. 
In response to a specific question from the Working Group, the possibility of 
usingjrmclej^^r jyeap£n Secretary McNamara stated that he 

coui(^"^^f^magine a case where they would be considered. McGeorge Bundy 
observed that under certain circumstances there might be_ great "^ esisure for 
their use both from the military and frqnr^ertain political circl^ General 
Wheeler stated that he would not_nqrmally votenFor"theirTrse^^-=^ver, for exam- 
ple, in an interdiction role. jFIowever, he suggested that they might^e considered 
in extremis — for example, to hold off an enemy to saw a_ force threatened, with 
destruction, or to knock out a special target like a nuclear^weapons facility. In 
response to Secretary Rusk's query as to their potential for cordoning off an area, 
both McNamara and Wheeler answered negatively. <CAy/t>^ 

Discussions of Option C dealt with the problem of early negotiations and, at 
greater length, with that of deploying ground forces to South Vietnam. On the 
former, there was little interchange noted in the proceedings. Despite the Work- 
ing Group's admitted frustration with this particular issue, only two Principals' 
comments were recorded. McGeorge Bundy stated the view that we should let 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 239 

negotiations come into play slowly. Secretary Rusk expressed concern that the 
GVN would be very sensitive on the issue of a negotiating conference. Earlier, 
however, he indicated his opinion that pressure for a conference would not be 
a serious problem as long as military actions continued. 

On the issue of sending ground forces to South Vietnam in the early stages of 
Option C, there was no firm conclusion. Secretary McNamara stated that there 
was no military requirement for ground forces and that he would prefer a 
massive air deployment. In response to General Wheeler's suggestion that some 
ground forces could be justified for air defense and base security purposes, he 
acknowledged that "we might do both." Mr. McCone stated the opinion that 
U.S. ground forces would help stabilize South Vietnam, similar to their effect 
on Lebanon in 1958. They might even provide a general security force in the 
South. McNamara disagreed. Secretary Rusk and McGeorge Bundy suggested 
their utility in proving a "preemptive effect," presumably equipped in ways to 
show our determination. In the end, it was agreed to raise this issue with Am- 
bassador Taylor, at the Principals' next meeting. Significantly, the value of 
ground forces as a bargaining counter apparently was not discussed, thus pro- 
viding one more indication of the Principals' reticence to deal with the issue of 
negotiation. (It is interesting to note in this respect that William Bundy's mem- 
orandum, formally summarizing the points of consensus and disagreement, does 
not deal with the early negotiating problem — despite its being a specific agenda 
item which he had suggested as Chairman of the Working Group.) 

The only basic issue between the options on which the Principals did not 
arrive at a consensus was the question of the relative risks of major conflict en- 
tailed by Options B and C. General Wheeler stated that there was less risk of a 
major conflict before achieving success under Option B than under Option C. 
Secretary McNamara believed the opposite to be true. Secretary Rusk argued 
that if B were selected, there would be no chance to apply the ICS variant of C, 
whereas under the Working Group's C, this would still be left available. He 
observed that entry into the ICS variant of C would feel something like the 
Cuban Missile Crisis. McNamara then suggested a four-week program of actions 
foflowing the general pattern of Option C. Mr. McCone stated that they sounded 
"fine," but that in his opinion the "negotiating mood" interfered with their po- 
tential effect. He agreed to attempt a paper to deal more directly with the rela- 
tion of risk to likely success, as between the two options. In the end, the only 
conclusion that could be drawn was that there was not complete agreement that 
B ran a higher risk of major conflict than C, as alleged by the Working Group. 

During the meeting of 24 November there was no clear decision as to which 
option was favored by the Principals. It seems likely that A was favored by 
Ball. Wheeler clearly favored B, and he may have had support from McCone, 
although this was far from clear. On the basis of either their participation in the 
Working Group or from statements of preference made at the meeting, it is clear 
that C was favored by McNamara, McNaughton, Rusk, and the Bundy brothers. 
However, McGeorge Bundy and McNamara apparently preferred a "firm C," 
whereas the other three wanted a more restrained, incremental approach. 

c. Policy Views from Saigon. The same group of Principals that met on the 
24th reassembled on 27 November for their first meeting with Ambassador Taylor. 
Present also was Michael Forrestal who had gone to Saigon to help prepare 
Taylor for the forthcoming strategy meeting and to apprise him of the Working 
Group efforts. Taylor led off with a prepared briefing on the current state of 
affairs within South Vietnam. [Doc. 242] 

240 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. HI 

Ambassador Taylor's estimate of the situation in South Vietnam was rather 
bleak. He reported continued deterioration of the pacification program and con- 
tinued weakness in the central government. The former was portrayed as related 
to increased direction and support of VC operations from Hanoi and increasing 
VC strength despite "very heavy losses inflicted almost daily" by the ARVN. 
Particular areas of concern were identified as the area surrounding Saigon and 
the northern provinces which were "now in deep trouble." Taylor related GVN 
weakness to political factionalism, mounting war weariness and hopelessness, 
"particularly in the urban areas," and a lack of "team play or mutual loyalty" 
among many central and provincial officials. Calling such chronic weakness "a 
critical liability to future plans," he warned that lack of an effective central gov- 
ernment caused U.S. efforts to assist South Vietnam to have little impact. 

To alter the course of what Taylor called "a losing game in South Vietnam," 
he recommended three measures: (1) "establish an adequate government"; (2) 
improve the counterinsurgency effort; and (3) "persuade or force the DRV" 
to stop aiding and directing the insurgency. With respect to the first, Taylor al- 
lowed that it was "hard to decide what is the minimum government which is 
necessary to permit reasonable hope" of success. However, he stated: 

... it is hard to visualize our being willing to make added outlays of 
resources and to run increasing political risks without an allied government 
which, at least, can speak for and to its people, can maintain law and order 
in the principal cities, can provide local protection for the vital military 
bases and installations, can raise and support Armed Forces, and can gear 
its efforts to those of the United States. Anything less than this would 
hardly be a government at all, and under such circumstances, the United 
States Government might do better to carry forward the war on a purely 
unilateral basis. 

With regard to the counterinsurgency effort, he opined, "We cannot do much 
better than what we are doing at present until the government improves." 

Ambassador Taylor saw U.S. military actions directed at the DRV as ful- 
filling a twofold purpose. On the one hand, he believed that even if an effective 
government were established, "we will not succeed in the end unless we drive 
the DRV out of its reinforcing role and obtain its cooperation in bringing an 
end to the Viet Cong insurgency." On the other hand, he saw actions outside 
South Vietnam as a means to improve GVN morale and confidence. Ac- 
knowledging that using our aid, advice and encouragement on behalf of pro- 
grams to stabilize the government would probably be insufficient for this pur- 
pose, he suggested additional measures: 

One way to accomplish this lift . . . would be ground and air assault 
counterinfiltration attacks within the Laotian corridor. While the former 
would be covert . . . knowledge of their occurrence could be made known 
... to give the morale lift which is desired. Additionally we could engage 
in reprisal bombings, to repay outrageous acts of the Viet Cong in South 
Viet Nam. . . . 

However, he added that even all these actions might not be sufficient "to hold 
the present government upright," in which case we would have to reconsider 
our policies. Our alternatives, he said, would be either to support one form or 
another of a replacement government or to "limit our contribution to military 
action directed at North Viet Nam." 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 241 

In addition to the military actions already identified with morale-raising pur- 
poses, Taylor suggested: 

... we could begin to escalate progressively by attacking appropriate 
targets in North Viet Nam. If we justified our action primarily upon the 
need to reduce infiltration, it would be natural to direct these attacks on 
infiltration-related targets such as staging areas, training facilities, com- 
munications centers and the like. ... In its final forms, this kind of 
attack could extend to the destruction of all important fixed targets in 
North Viet Nam and to the interdiction of movement on all lines of com- 

Ambassador Taylor's views regarding the circumstances under which such 
escalatory actions should be initiated were not entirely clear in his briefing to 
the Principals. After reiterating the necessity of stepping up the 34A operations, 
increasing those in Laos, and undertaking reprisals as part of the efforts to raise 
morale and strengthen the GVN, he stated two somewhat different, although 
not necessarily contradictory, viewpoints on the question of stronger military 

If this course of action is inadequate, and the government falls, then we 
must start over again or try a new approach. ... In any case, we should 
be prepared for emergency military action against the North if only to 
shore up a collapsing situation. 

If, on the other hand . . . the government maintains and proves itself, 
then we should be prepared to embark on a methodical program of mount- 
ing air attacks in order to accomplish our pressure objectives vis-a-vis the 
DRV. . . . 

He then proposed a scenario for controlled escalation, the actions in which 
were quite similar to an extended Option A or a low-order Option C without 
declared negotiating willingness. 

The implication is that Taylor visualized graduated air operations having 
primarily psychological impact on the North following logically from successful 
political efforts in the South — but that he also wanted an (perhaps somewhat 
stronger) air campaign held in readiness as a punitive measure in the event of a 
critical reversal in the South. This impression is strengthened by his earlier com- 
ment about U.S. alternatives and by the second of "three principles" which he 
recommended to the Principals: 

a. Do not enter into negotiations until the DRV is hurting. 

b. Never let the DRV gain a victory in South Viet Nam without having paid 
a disproportionate price. 

c. Keep the GVN in the forefront of the combat and the negotiations. 

Involving the GVN in all phases of our operations was an important aspect of 
the Ambassador's thinking about next courses of action. He stressed that before 
making a final decision on the course we would follow, it would be necessary to 
obtain the reaction of Prime Minister Huong and General Khanh to our various 
alternatives. He explained: 

They will be taking on risks as great or greater than ours so that they have 
a right to a serious hearing. We should make every effort to get them to 

242 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

ask our help in expanding the war. If they decline, we shall have to rethink 
the whole situation. 

"If, as is likely, they urge us," Taylor added, we should take advantage of their 
enthusiasm "to nail down certain important points" on which we want their 
agreement. Included were GVN pledges to maintain military and police strength, 
to replace incompetent officials, and to suppress disorder and agreements to 
stipulated divisions of responsibility for conducting military operations. 

Taylor's briefing made clear his commitment to limited U.S. objectives in 
Southeast Asia and his belief in the necessity of assuring the DRV of this limita- 
tion. Further, he made explicit his expectation that the DRV would not accept 
U.S. offensive actions without some intensified military reaction in the South 
and that any DRV submission to our demands might well be temporary. 

d. Discussions with Ambassador Taylor. Following the briefing, the Principals 
commented on a number of the Ambassador's observations and discussed further 
the question of future courses of action. [Doc. 244] Secretary Rusk asked what 
could be done to make the GVN perform better. Taylor replied that he must be 
able to convey a strong message, but that we couldn't threaten the Saigon govern- 
ment. For example, a threat to "withdraw unless" would be "quite a gamble." 
The issue of neutralism was raised and "Ambassador Taylor noted that neutra- 
lism' as it existed in Saigon appeared to mean throwing the internal political 
situation open and thus inviting Communist participation." Mr. Ball observed 
that a neutralist state could not be maintained unless the VC were defeated and 
that the GVN must continue to be free to receive external aid until that occurred. 
Therefore, "neutralism in the sense of withdrawal of external assistance" did not 
seem to be a hopeful alternative. In apparent reply to Taylor's briefing comments 
to the effect that the United States might continue military action against North 
Vietnam despite a GVN collapse. Rusk commented that he "couldn't see a uni- 
lateral war" in this event. Taylor indicated that he meant "only punitive actions." 
Secretary McNamara agreed with Rusk, but added that if the GVN continued to 
weaken we would need to try Option C or A. "The consensus was that it was 
hard to visualize continuing in these circumstances [if the GVN collapsed or told 
us to get out], but that the choice must certainly be avoided if at all possible." 

After a discussion of some of the administrative problems in the GVN, "Am- 
bassador Taylor noted that General Westmoreland had prepared a report of the 
military situation" in South Vietnam. (The report was later distributed to the 
group.) He indicated that "Westmoreland was generally more optimistic than he 
(Taylor)" and that he saw better morale, increased defections and the like as 
signs of improvement in the military situation. Further, he stated that West- 
moreland would be inclined to wait six months before taking further action in 
order to have a firmer base for them. However, Taylor added that "he himself 
did not believe that we could count on the situation holding together that long, 
and that we must do something sooner than this." Secretary McNamara also 
disagreed with Westmoreland's view, expressing doubts that the military situation 
would improve. In answer to specific questions, McNamara stated his opinion 
that (1) no, the political situation would not become stronger, but (2) yes, we 
would be justified in undertaking Option C even if the poHtical situation did not 
improve. Taylor replied that "stronger action would definitely have a favorable 
effect" in South Vietnam, "but he was not sure this would be enough really to 
improve the situation." Others, including McNamara, agreed with Taylor's eval- 
uation, but the Secretary added that "the strengthening effect of Option C could 
at least buy time, possibly measured in years." 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 243 

Ambassador Taylor then urged that "over the next two months we adopt a 
program of Option A plus the first stages of Option C." He argued that the 
GVN was badly in need of some "pulmotor treatment," that any other alterna- 
tive would probably result in a worsened situation — perhaps militarily. He added 
that the likelihood of GVN improvement seemed so doubtful that "we should 
move into C right away." Secretary Rusk asked if Option C would give Taylor 
the "bargaining leverage" needed with the GVN. The Ambassador replied by 
suggesting certain details of the message he would propose passing to the Saigon 
government. In effect these called for the GVN to agree to the kind of internal 
policies and command arrangements suggested in his briefing, in return for a 
prompt U.S. implementation of "Option A plus'' and acknowledgment of the 
intention to go further if the GVN stabilized itself. It is important to note that 
the official memorandum of the foregoing discussion implied agreement among 
the Principals that Option A plus early stages of C should be recommended. The 
memorandum states, "It was urged that . . ." and "to get what improvements 
we could it was thought that we should move into some parts of C soon." 

There followed a discussion of the infiltration evidence, during which Mr. 
McCone indicated that an intelligence team had made a further investigation of 

It was agreed that State and Defense should check statements made by 
Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, and General Wheeler on this subject, 
so that these could be related to the previous MACV and other estimates 
and a full explanation developed of how these earlier estimates had been 
made and why they had been wrong in the light of fuller evidence. 

Before the meeting adjourned (with agreement to meet again the next day), 
Ambassador Taylor raised a number of questions which he thought the Working 
Group papers had not covered adequately. Only a few received answers during 
the meeting, and he agreed to furnish the Principals with the complete list. How- 
ever, it was indicated that Option B or C could be initiated from a "standing 
start" — presumably with no incidents necessarily occurring first. The GVN were 
acknowledged to have "plenty of capabilities" to participate — even before arriving 
at the intended four-squadron strength of A-1 aircraft. It was stressed that the 
VNAF role would be in North Vietnam only — not in Laos — and Secretary McNa- 
mara indicated a strong role for them against targets below the 19th Parallel. 
Finally, a time-span of three to six months was indicated as the expected duration 
for Option C. 

On the following day, when the Principals reassembled, William Bundy cir- 
culated a draft scenario of actions proposed in the event a decision were made 
to undertake measures like those contained in Option A. [Doc. 245] It had been 
agreed at the end of the initial meeting that these would be reviewed by the group 
with the assumption that they could be implemented "with or without a decision 
to move into the full Option C program at some time thereafter." (It is important 
to note how readily the attention of the Principals focused on the similarity of 
prepartory actions and early military measures in the various options, apparently 
without regard to the particular negotiating rationale which each option incor- 
porated.) Bundy's scenario of early military, political and diplomatic actions was 
based on a similar assumption. He indicated, however, that the Working Group 
believed "that at least a contingent decision to go on is now required." To facili- 
tate discussion on the part of the Principals, worksheets indicating proposed 

244 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

language or procedures were described, to include the following action cate- 

1. U.S. public action 

a. White House statement following 1 December meeting 

b. Background briefing on infiltration 

c. Congressional consultation 

d. Major Presidential speech 

e. Public report on infiltration 

2. Consultation with the GVN 

3. Consultation with key allies 

4. Communications with Communist nations 

5. Existing forms of military actions (including reconnaissance and RLAF 
strikes in Laos, GVN maritime operations, etc.) 

6. Reprisal actions resulting from DE SOTO Patrols and "spectaculars" 

7. Added military and other actions 

Certain of these topics received more attention than others in the course of the 
meeting, with emphasis being placed on "spelling out" the exact steps that the 
Principals would be asking the President to approve. With respect to actions 
aimed at the U.S. public, McGeorge Bundy stressed that the Presidential speech 
must both (1) affirm U.S. determination and (2) be consistent with the infiltra- 
tion evidence. General Wheeler stated that earlier infiltration reports could be 
defended because of their small data base and suggsted that the discrepancies 
could be used to explain how the VC operated. It was determined that one man 
should be put in charge of assembling the available infiltration data for public 
release, and Chester Cooper was suggested for the job. With respect to coordina- 
tion with the GVN, Ambassador Taylor pointed out the need to prepare a draft 
statement to the GVN for the President's review and agreed to prepare a table 
of the specific GVN actions needed. Secretary Rusk acknowledged the possible 
desirability of delaying until GVN leadership issues were resolved, but that "any- 
thing now would cause problems." Mr. Ball reminded that it would be necessary 
to query the GVN regarding release of some of the infiltration evidence. 

Military and other related actions were also discussed: Secretary Rusk indi- 
cated the need to surface the GVN maritime operations, and Ambassador Taylor 
suggested that they and other morale-raising actions could be made public "in 
one package." In discussing the possible need for additional airfields in the 
northern part of South Vietnam, it was pointed out that a new jet field might 
take two years. Secretary McNamara said he thought there were enough fields to 
support Option C now if certain readily accessible improvements were added. 
He and the generals (Wheeler and Taylor) reminded the group that stopping the 
movement of U.S. dependents to South Vietnam or withdrawing those already 
there could not be concealed and that this problem must be resolved promptly — 
certainly within the initial 30 days. Taylor cautioned that actions regarding de- 
pendents could not be taken until our full course was decided, presumably be- 
cause of potential GVN fears of a U.S. withdrawal. The question of resumed 
DE SOTO Patrols was raised with the reminder that CINCPAC wanted them for 
intelligence purposes. Taylor, McNamara and McGeorge Bundy opposed the 
idea, while General Wheeler strongly supported it. Notes of the meeting indicate 
resolution to the effect that the patrols should not be resumed during the first 
30-day period. It was also agreed to recommend joint U.S./GVN planning of 
reprisal actions and of further escalatory measures. 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 245 

At some point during the meeting it was determined that William Bundy would 
undertake preparation of a draft national security action paper containing policy 
guidance for the approaching period. The paper was to describe the strategic 
concept, outline the actions to be taken during the initial 30-day period, and 
indicate likely follow-on measures and the conditions under which they might be 
implemented. It was decided that the paper would be reviewed at another meeting 
of the Principals on 30 November, before submission to the President. A White 
House meeting had been scheduled for the following day. 

On the afternoon of the 30th, in Secretary Rusk's conference room, the Prin- 
cipals met again. Bundy's draft paper had been distributed to them earlier after 
being generally approved (re format) by Rusk and reviewed for substance by 
Messrs. McNaughton and Forrestal. [Doc. 246] 

In describing the basic concept, the paper presented U.S. objectives as "un- 
changed," although giving primary emphasis to our aims in South Vietnam. 
However, getting the DRV to remove its support and direction from the in- 
surgency in the South, and obtaining their cooperation in ending VC operations 
there, were listed among the basic objectives — not presented as a strategy for 
attaining them. The objectives were to be pursued in the first 30 days by measures 
includmg those contained in Option A, plus U.S. armed route reconnaissance 
operations in Laos. They were linked with Ambassador Taylor's rationale that 
these actions would be intended primarily "to help GVN morale and to increase 
the costs and strain on Hanoi." The concept also included Taylor's emphasis on 
persuading the GVN to make itself more effective and to push forward its pacifi- 
cation efforts. For the period beyond the first 30 days, the concept provided that 

. . . first-phase actions may be continued without change, or additional 
military measures may be taken including the withdrawal of dependents and 
the possible initiation of strikes a short distance across the border against 
the infiltration routes from the DRV. In the latter case this would become 
a transitional phase. 

The kind of actions that the transition would lead to were described in a care- 
fully qualified manner: 

... if the GVN improves its effectiveness to an acceptable degree and 
Hanoi does not yield on acceptable terms, or if the GVN can only be kept 
going by stronger action, the U.S. is prepared — at a time to be determined 
— to enter into a second phase program ... of graduated military pressures 
directed systematically against the DRV. 

The concept continued with a mixture of suggested actions and rationale similar 
to that in Option C. The air strikes would be "progressively more serious" and 
"adjusted to the situation." The expected duration was indicated as "possibly run- 
ning from two to six months." "Targets in the DRV would start with infiltration 
targets south of the 19th Parallel and work up to targets north of that point." 
The approach would be steady and deliberate, to give the United States the option 
"to proceed or not, to escalate or not, and to quicken the pace or not." It con- 
cluded with the following: 

Concurrently, the U.S. would be alert to any sign of yielding by Hanoi, and 
would be preparted to explore negotiated solutions that attain U.S. objectives 

246 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

in an acceptable manner. The U.S. would seek to control any negotiations 
and would oppose any independant South Vietnamese efforts to negotiate. 

Bundy's draft NSAM also included a summation of the recommended JCS 
alternative concept and a brief description of the various military, political and 
diplomatic measures to be taken during the first 30 days following implementa- 
tion of the concept. Significantly, the latter included reprisal actions "preferably 
within 24 hours" for a wide range of specified VC provocations. It also contained 
a specific provision that DE SOTO Patrols would not be resumed during the 
initial 30-day period, but would be considered for the follow-on period. 

In the documents available there was no record of the proceedings of the 
meeting on 30 November. The only evidence available is the notes and comments 
on the original draft NSAM, filed with other papers from the NSC Working 
Group at the State Department. Therefore, the following assessment of what 
occurred is limited to inferences from that sparse evidence. Moreover, based on 
this evidence, it is not absolutely certain that the changes indicated came as a 
result of the Principals meeting. 

Several changes apparently were made in order not to ask the President to 
commit himself unnecessarily (e.g., the language was changed from "take" to 
"resume" a specific action in the second phase, to "be prepared to take," etc.). 
Others had policy implications. The only significant change in the first category 
was to remove any reference in the title to NSAM and to call it merely a "posi- 
tion paper," In the latter category, several changes seem significant. For example, 
keeping the GVN going through the effects of stronger U.S. action was deleted 
as one of the circumstances under which we might initiate a program of "gradu- 
ated mihtary pressures" against the DRV. Apparently based on Secretary McNa- 
mara's comment, reference to the United States seeking to control the negotia- 
tions and blocking South Vietnamese efforts in this direction was removed. The 
summary of JCS views was also removed from the concept, in effect presenting 
a united front to the President. From the description of 30-day actions, 
all reference to the intent to publicize infiltration evidence or present it to allied 
and Congressional leaders was eliminated, including the intention to link re- 
prisal actions to DRV infiltration to develop "a common thread of justification." 
Also removed was reference to a major Presidential speech, apparently on the 
advice of McGeorge Bundy. 

Although there is a bare minimum of rationale or explanation for these changes 
in the available evidence, the pattern described by the changes themselves is 
significant. In effect, Option A along with the lowest order of Option C actions 
were being recommended by the Principals in a manner that would represent the 
least possible additional commitment. This represented a considerable softening 
of the positions held at the end of the first Principals meeting, on the 24th. 

It also represented a substantial deviation from the findings of the Working 
Group. It will be recalled that the group conceded Option A little chance of 
contributing to an improved GVN and saw its likely impact on South Vietnamese 
morale as no more lasting than the effects of the Tonkin Gulf reprisals. More- 
over, even extended A was believed "at best" to be capable of little more than 
an improved U.S. position — certainly not of a meaningful settlement. In effect, 
the Principals were returning to the initial concept of Option C held in the Work- 
ing Group by Bundy, Johnson and McNaughton — but without the initially flexi- 
ble attitude toward national interest and objectives in Southeast Asia. 

It is of interest to consider the factors that may have brought about the change. 
( 1 ) It may have resulted as a reaction to the persuasiveness of General Taylor's 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 247 

arguments. (2) It may have represented a genuine mellowing of individual view- 
points after the opportunity to consider other judgements and weigh all the fac- 
tors. (3) It may have resulted from the Principals' uneasiness with the negotiat- 
ing track included in Option C. (4) It may have reflected concern over public 
pressure for harsher measures that could have resulted from too much public 
emphasis on the increased infiltration. (5) It may have represented an attempt 
to enhance the chances of the President's approving some kind of stepped up 
U.S. action outside of South Vietnam. With regard to the latter, McGeorge 
Bundy, as the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs, was in a posi- 
tion to convey President Johnson's mood to the group. Moreover, notes taken 
at the White House meeting tend to confirm that the President's mood was more 
closely akin to the measures recommended than to those in Option B or full 
Option C. Then again, it may be that all of these factors operated on the Princi- 
pals in some measure. 

Also significant, in the series of discussions held by the Principals, was their 
apparent lack of attention to the policy issues related to negotiations. Despite 
the fact that Option C measures were stipulated for the second phase of U.S. 
actions, the early negotiating posture intended to accompany that option was ap- 
parently paid little heed. According to the meeting notes, the only reference to 
our bargaining capability was Secretary Rusk's concern as to whether Option C 
actions would enable Ambassador Taylor to bargain in Saigon. Among the 
documents from the Principals meetings, the only reference to Hanoi's interest 
in negotiating occurred in Bundy's draft NSAM, where he reflected apparent 
Administration expectations that after more serious pressures were applied the 
DRV would move first in the quest for a settlement. 

In retrospect, the Principals appear to have assumed rather low motivation on 
the part of the DRV. Either this or they were overly optimistic regarding the 
threat value of U.S. military might, or both. 

For example. Ambassador Taylor's perception of how a settlement might be 
reached — which apparently produced little unfavorable reaction among the 
others — indicated the assumption that DRV concessions to rather major demands 
could be obtained with relatively weak pressures. In his suggested scenario (ac- 
knowledged as "very close" to the concept accepted by the Principals), the U.S. 
negotiating posture accompanying a series of attacks, limited to infiltration 
targets "just north of the DMZ," was intended to be as foflows: 

... in absence of public statements by DRV, initiate no public state- 
ments or publicity by ourselves or GVN. If DRV does make public state- 
ments, confine ourselves and GVN to statements that GVN is exercising 
right of self-defense and we are assisting .... disclose to selected allies, 
and possibly USSR, U.S./GVN terms for cessation of attacks as f 

A. Demands: 

1. DRV return to strict observance o^ 1954 Accords with resp 
SVN — that is, stop infiltration and/ bring about a cessation of VC 
armed insurgency. — "" 

B. In return: 

1. U.S. will return to 1954 Accords with respect to military person- 
nel in GVN and GVN would be willing to enter into trade talks 
looking toward normalization of economic relations between DRV 
and GVN. 

2. Subject to faithful compliance by DRV with 1954 Accords, U.S. 
and GVN would give assurances that they not use force or sup- 

248 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

port the use of force by any other party to upset the Accords with 
respect to the DRV. 
3. . . . the GVN would permit VC desiring to do so to return to the 
DRV without their arms or would grant amnesty . . . 

Taylor went on to suggest that "if and when Hanoi indicates its acceptance," the 
United States should avoid ( 1 ) the danger of a cease-fire accompanied by 
prolonged negotiations and (2) ''making conditions so stringent" as to be im- 

Significantly, the terms were to be conveyed to Hanoi privately. They did not 
constitute a declaratory policy in the usual sense of that term. Hence, it must be 
assumed that they would be presented to the DRV with the attitude of "ac- 
ceptance or else" — that they were not perceived primarily as conveying a firm 
public image. Moreover, the terms were designed to accompany what became 
known as "phase two," the graduated pressures of Option C — not the 30-day 
actions derived from Option A. They were meant to represent the "early nego- 
tiating" posture of the United States — not the "no-negotiation" posture associated 
with Option A. 

This general attitude toward negotiations was apparently shared by other 
Principals. This is indicated by changes made in Option C procedures. Es- 
sentially, these involved an adamant resistance to any formal "Geneva Con- 
ference on Vietnam." Formerly, such a conference was regarded as the "best 
forum" — after conducting a number of military actions against the DRV. Under 
the revised approach, the U.S. Government would merely "watch and listen 
closely" for signs of weakening from Hanoi and Peking. If the DRV held firm 
in response to initial military actions against North Vietnam and if, along with 
these actions, an improvement had occurred in the GVN, the Administration 
would press harder for acceptance of the initial negotiating position. Thus, it 
is fairly clear that the policy position formulated by the Principals before 
presentation to the President included no provision for early bargaining at the 
conference table. 

2. Courses of Action Approved in the White House 

On 1 December, the Principals met with President Johnson and Vice President- 
elect Humphrey in the White House. During a meeting that lasted two-and-one- 
half hours. Ambassador Taylor briefed the President on the situation in South 
Vietnam, and the group reviewed the evidence of increasing DRV support for 
the conflicts in South Vietnam and Laos. Ways of countering the impact of 
infiltration and of improving the situation were discussed. At the conclusion of 
the meeting Secretary McNamara was reported to have been overheard saying to 
^Ji^ President, "It would be impossible for Max to talk to these people [waiting 
^^orters] without leaving the impression that the situation is going to hell." Ac- 
■^rdingly, Ambassador Taylor slipped out the White House rear entrance, and 
only a brief, formal statement was given to the press. 

The source documents available at the time of this writing do not indicate the 
precise nature of the President's decisions. Since a NSAM was not issued follow- 
ing the meeting, one would have to have access to White House case files and 
National Security Council meeting notes to be certain of what was decided. 
Even then, one might not find a clear-cut decision recorded. However, from 
handwritten notes of the meeting, from instructions issued to action agencies, 
and from later reports of diplomatic and military actions taken, it is possible 
to reconstruct the approximate nature of the discussion and the decisions reached. 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 249 

The revised "Draft Position Paper on Southeast Asia," containing the two- 
phase concept for future U.S. policy and the proposed 30-day action program, 
provided the basis for the White House discussions. Handwritten notes of the 
proceedings refer to various topics in approximately the same order as they are 
listed in that portion of the position paper dealing with the 30-day action 
program. There is no indication that the over-all concept was discussed. How- 
ever, it is evident from the notes that the various actions under discussion were 
considered in terms of the details of their implementation. The instructions to 
Ambassador Taylor make it clear that, in general outline at least, the concept 
submitted by the Principals was accepted by the President. However, as will be 
seen, it is also clear that he gave his approval to implement only the first 
phase of the concept. 

In addition to Ambassador Taylor's report, the meeting dealt mainly with 
two subjects: (1) Taylor's consultations with South Vietnamese leaders and 
(2) conversations with other U.S. allies who had an interest in the Vietnamese 

The President made it clear that he considered that pulling the South Viet- 
namese together was basic to anything else the United States might do. He 
asked the Ambassador specifically which groups he might talk to and what more 
we might do to help bring unity among South Vietnam's leaders. He asked 
whether we could not say to them "we just can't go on" unless they pulled 
together. To this, Taylor replied that we must temper our insistence somewhat, 
and suggested that we could say that "our aid is for the Huong government, not 
necessarily for its successor." The President asked whether there was not some 
way we could "get to" such groups as the Catholics, the Buddhists and the Army. 
Possible additional increments of military aid were then discussed as means of 
increasing U.S. leverage among military leaders. The President also asked about 
"the Communists" in South Vietnam. Taylor's reply was noted rather cryptically, 
but the impression given is that the Communists were being used already, but 
that he questioned the desirability of trying to pressure them. He apparently 
stated that they were "really neutralists," but that the French were "not really 
bothering" to use them. The President observed that the situation in South 
Vietnam "does look blacker" to the public than it apparently was. He wondered 
if something could not be done to change the impression being given in the 

Toward the end of the discussion of consultations with the South Vietnamese, 
President Johnson stated his conviction that the GVN was too weak to take on 
the DRV militarily. He acknowledged that the South Vietnamese had received 
good training, but emphasized that we "must have done everything we can" to 
strengthen them before such a conflict occurred. This attitude was reflected in 
the guidance given to Ambassador Taylor and in the statement he was authorized 
to make to the GVN. The statement contained a passage asserting that the U.S. 
Government did not believe 

that we should incur the risks which are inherent in any expansion of hos- 
tilities without first assuring that there is a government in Saigon capable 
of handling the serious problems involved in such an expansion and of 
exploiting the favorable effects which may be anticipated. . . . 

The White House discussions of U.S. consultation with other allies were 
prefaced by the President's strong affirmation that we needed "new dramatic, 
effective" forms of assistance from several of these countries. Australia, New 
Zealand, Canada and the Philippines were specifically mentioned. Secretary Rusk 

250 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

added that the U.K. also could do more. A possible Republic of China con- 
tribution was discussed, but the Secretary expressed concern that introduction of 
GRC combat units would tend to merge the problem of Vietnam with the 
conflict between the two Chinese regimes. Apparently, the Principals' proposal 
to end a representative to the governments of Australia, New Zealand, and the 
Philippines was approved. In each case, the representative was to explain our 
concept and proposed actions and request additional contributions by way of 
forces in the event the second phase of U.S. actions were entered. Vice Presi- 
dent-elect Humphrey was suggested for consultations with the Philippine gov- 
ernment. The President asked about the possibility of a West German con- 
tribution, but Secretary McNamara emphasized that German political problems 
would inhibit such a pledge from Bonn. Finally, it was agreed that Ambassador 
Taylor would cable the particular kind of third country assistance that would 
be welcomed after he had a chance to consult with the GVN. 

At the close of the meeting, the White House released a press statement 
which contained only two comments regarding any determinations that had 
been reached. One reaffirmed "the basic United States policy of providing all 
possible and useful assistance" to South Vietnam, specifically linking this policy 
with the Congressional Joint Resolution of 10 August. The other stated: 

The President instructed Ambassador Taylor to consult urgently with the 
South Vietnamese government as to measures that should be taken to im- 
prove the situation in all its aspects. 

During the subsequent press briefing, George Reedy indicated to reporters 
that Taylor would be working on the specific details of his forthcoming con- 
versations in Saigon "for another two to three days" and would have at least 
one more meeting with the President before his return. However, it seems clear 
that most of what he would say to GVN officials was settled during the initial 
White House meeting. A proposed text was appended to the Principals' draft 
position paper, and it is clear that this was discussed on 1 December. Appar- 
ently, the only change made at that time was to remove a proposed U.S. pledge 
to furnish air cover for the GVN maritime operations against the North Viet- 
namese coast. 

The statement was recast in the form of Presidential instructions to Ambas- 
sador Taylor — with specific authorization for the Ambassador to alter the phras- 
ing as he thought necessary to insure effective communications with the GVN. 
However, the concept and the specific points for communication were un- 
changed. The instructions made specific provision for him to inform senior GVN 
officials of the U.S. willingness ( 1 ) to cooperate in intensifying the GVN mari- 
time operations and (2) "to add U.S. airpower as needed to restrict the use 
of Laotian territory as an infiltration route into SVN." These pledges were 
prefaced by statements to the effect that U.S. actions directly against the DRV 
could not be taken until GNV effectiveness was assured along certain specified 
lines. The statements made explicit the policy view that "we should not incur the 
risks which are inherent in such an expansion of hostilities" until such improve- 
ments were made. As evidence of our desire to encourage those developments, 
however, the rationale stressed that the Administration was "willing to strike 
harder at the infiltration routes in Laos and at sea." 

The instructions also included specific provision that the U.S. Mission in Sai- 
gon was to work with the GVN in developing joint plans for reprisal operations 
and for air operations appropriate for a second phase of new U.S. actions. The 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 251 

general relationship between the two contemplated phases was explained, and 
the Phase Two purpose "of convincing the leaders of DRV that it is to their in- 
terest to cease to aid the Viet Cong" was stated. The joint character of the "pro- 
gressively mounting" air operations against North Vietnam, should they be de- 
cided on later, was emphasized. 

As indicated earlier, there was no NSAM issued following the strategy meeting 
of 1 December. The reasons why are clear. In effect, the actions recommended 
by the Principals and approved by the President did not constitute a significant 
departure from the actions authorized in NSAM 314 (9 September 1964). That 
document had already provided for discussions with the Laotian government 
leading to possible U.S. armed reconnaissance operations along the infiltration 
routes. Further, it had provided for resumption of the 34A maritime operations, 
which had continued throughout the fall. In effect, the December strategy meet- 
ing produced little change except to make more concrete the concept of possible 
future operations against North Vietnam and to authorize steps to include the 
GVN in preparations for these possibilities. 

It is clear that the President did not make any commitment at this point to 
expand the war through future operations against North Vietnam. The assurances 
intended for the GVN in this regard were conditional at best. The extent to 
which the President was committed to such a course in his mind, or in discus- 
sions with his leading advisers, was not made explicit in the sources available. 
It is implied, however, in brief notes "wTTicB™werF"apparently intended to sum- 
marize the mood of the meeting on 1 December. These were (1) [illegible] (2) 
it may be necessary to act from a base not as strong as hoped for; (3) it is not cer- 
tain, however, how public opinion can be handled; and (4) it is desirable to send 
out a "somewhat stronger signal. "In addition, a comment not entirely legible stated 
"Measures can't do as much (1) UN and (2) international [negotia- 

tions?]." In the context of the discussions, the impression left by these notations 
is that the White House was considerably less than certain that future U.S. ac- 
tions against North Vietnam would be taken, or that they would be desirable. 


When Ambassador Taylor next met with the President on the afternoon of 3 
December, McGeorge Bundy was the only other official present. Prior to this 
occasion, Taylor had sat with the other Principals to review specific features of 
the Administration's position and to work out details of the scenario that was 
about to go into production. When he left the President's office, presumably hav- 
ing received the final version of his instructions, the Ambassador told reporters 
that he was going to hold "across-the-board" discussions with the GVN. Assert- 
ing that U.S. policy for South Vietnam remained the same, he stated that his 
aim would be to improve the deteriorating situation in South Vietnam. Although 
he hinted of changes "in tactics and method," he quite naturally did not disclose 
the kind of operations in which the United States was about to engage or any 
future actions to which immediate activities could lead. 

1. Early Actions 

Phase One actions to exert additional pressures against North Vietnam were 
quite limited. Only two, the GVN maritime operations and U.S. armed recon- 
naissance missions in Laos, were military actions. The others involved stage- 
managing the public release of evidence of the increased Communist infiltration 

252 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

into South Vietnam and the acquisition of additional assistance for that country 
from other governments. 

a. GVN Maritime Operations. Maritime operations under OPLAN 34A repre- 
sented nothing new. These had been underway steadily since 4 October, and their 
November schedule was in the process of being carried out at the time the de- 
cisions on immediate actions were being made. On 25 November, six PTF craft 
bombarded a barracks area on Tiger Island with 81mm mortars, setting numerous 
fires. Moreover, a proposed schedule for December had been submitted to 
COMUSMACV on 27 November. This included a total of 15 maritime opera- 
tions involving shore bombardments, a junk capture, a kidnap mission, and a 
demolition sortie against a coastal highway bridge. According to the concept, 
these were to be intensified during Phase One. 

Soon after the decisions had been made to begin Phase One, the JCS tasked 
COMUSMACV with developing a revised December 34A schedule to better re- 
flect the newly adopted pressure concept. CINCPAC was requested to submit 
revised 34A plans so as to arrive in Washington not later than 8 December. The 
instructions specified that these were "to include proposed sequence and timing 
for increased frequency of maritime operations" in two packages. The first was 
to begin on 15 December, extend over a period of 30 days and provide for "shal- 
low penetration raids ... on all types of targets which would provide the 
greatest psychological benefits . . Destructive results and military utility were 
to be strictly secondary considerations. Package Two was to add four to six 
U.S. aircraft to afford protective cover and incorporate action against certain 
North Vietnamese coastal targets above the 19th Parallel. This package was in- 
tended to begin approximately 30 days following initiation of the first, although 
the instructions cautioned that the plans should be "prepared to provide for an 
indefinite period" of operations under Package One. 

MACV's new proposal for maritime operations was submitted on 5 December, 
with proposals for psychological operations and aerial resupply /reinforce mis- 
sions following close behind. On the 10th, approval for the latter two was com- 
municated back to the field. At the time, the MAROPS proposals were still under 
consideration within the JCS. On the 12th, the JCS submitted their two-package 
proposal. Included in their first 30-day package were coastal bombardment of 
radar sites, barracks, and PT boat bases plus a maritime equivalent of aerial 
armed reconnaissance. Patrol boats would make "fire sweeps" along the coast 
against "targets of opportunity." In addition, upon their return from bombard- 
ment missions, it was proposed that the GVN PT boats attempt the capture of 
NVN junks and SWATOW craft. With the single exception of the coastal fire 
sweeps, all of these initial package operations were approved by OSD, and in- 
structions were issued to implement the initial increment of such operations on or 
about 15 December. 

In accord with the instructions initially issued regarding intensified maritime 
operations, OSD decisions on the proposed second package were deferred. The 
JCS indicated that the addition of U.S. air cover, and the necessary command 
and control procedures needed to support such operations, could be implemented 
on or about 15 January. They went on to recommend that if this were decided, 
the "maritime operations should be surfaced . . . prior to [implementation of] 
Package Two." 

The JCS were disconcerted over disapproval of the fire sweeps along the North 
Vietnamese coast. However, their concern stemmed not so much from the lack 
of support for these particular operations as from their view that the disapproval 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 253 

removed from the package the only significant intensification beyond the level 
already attained before the President's Phase One decision. At a Principals meet- 
ing on 19 December, acting JCS chairman, General Harold H. Johnson, pointed 
out that with the modifications now made to it, the 34A program was, in ef- 
fect, not intensified at all. Moreover, as discussion revealed, seasonal sea con- 
ditions were now so severe that no maritime operation had been completed suc- 
cessfully during the previous three weeks. In effect, therefore, the "intensified" 
December schedule of approved maritime operations still remained to be imple- 
mented as the month drew to a close. 

[Words illegible] JCS urged that several air missions be added to the kinds of 
operations already approved. Included were the VNAF air strikes, using un- 
marked aircraft and U.S. air escort for returning surface craft. However, both of 
these items were disapproved; only the air operations in support of psychological 
and resupply operations gained acceptance. Apparently there was little additional 
MAROPS activity during January, 1965; the normal documentary sources in- 
clude very little for this period. 

b. Armed Reconnaissance in Laos. Like the maritime operations, armed recon- 
naissance in Laos was, in some respects, a continuation of operations that had 
been underway for some time. At least, U.S. aircraft had been operating over 
Laos since the previous May, performing reconnaissance functions and providing 
armed escort for these and (since October) the RLAF strike missions. Of course, 
armed escort was carried out under strict rules of engagement that permitted at- 
tacking ground targets only in response to hostile fire. Given the operational code 
YANKEE TEAM, these carrier and land-based missions had been following a 
constant pattern for several months. This pattern included roughly four day- 
light reconnaissance flights in the Plaine des Jarres-Route 7 area every two 
weeks, and during a like period, approximately ten reconnaissance flights in the 
Panhandle, and two night-reconnaissance flights along Route 7. Complimenting 
these efforts were those of the RLAF, whose T-28's harassed the Pathet Lao, 
gave tactical air support to Royal Laotian Army units, interdicted Route 7 and 
the Panhandle, and performed armed route reconnaissance in central Laos. Dur- 
ing the period 1 October-30 December, there were a total of 724 T-28 sorties 
in the Panhandle alone. These had already precipitated several complaints from 
the DRV, alleging U.S.-sponsored air attacks on North Vietnamese territory. 

The intended U.S. policy was discussed with Premier Souvanna Phouma on 
10 December by the new U.S. Ambassador to Laos, William Sullivan. He re- 
ported that Souvanna "Fully supports the U.S. pressures program and is pre- 
pared to cooperate in full." The Premier particularly wanted interdiction of 
Routes 7, 8, and 12, but he insisted on making no public admission that U.S. 
aircraft had taken on new missions in Laos. The Administration had indicated 
to the Vientiane Embassy a few days earlier that it wished the RLAF to intensify 
its strike program also, particularly "in the Corridor area and close to the DRV 

In the meantime, the JCS developed an air strike program to complement the 
YANKEE TEAM operation in accordance with current guidance, and had in- 
structed CINCPAC to be prepared to carry it out. The program included mis- 
sions against targets of opportunity along particular portions of Route 8 and 
Routes 121 and 12. It also included secondary targets for each mission that in- 
cluded barracks areas and military strongpoints. The second mission was to be 
flown not earlier than three days following the first. The program was briefed 
at a 12 December meeting of the Principals by Deputy vSecretary Vance and 

254 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

was approved by them with one exception. They amended the ordnance instruc- 
tions which had been prepared for CINCPAC to specifically exclude the use of 
napalm. For its first use against targets in Laos, they felt, the RLAF would be 
the only appropriate user. McGeorge Bundy stated that the amended program 
"filled precisely the President's wishes," and that he (Bundy) would so inform 
the President. He further stated that, barring separate advice to the contrary, the 
program should be executed. It was also agreed at this meeting that there would 
be no public statements about armed reconnaissance operations in Laos unless 
a plane were lost. In such an event, the Principals stated, the Government should 
continue to insist that we were merely escorting reconnaissance flights as re- 
quested by the Laotian government. 

Armed reconnaissance operations in Laos, called BARREL ROLL, got under- 
way on 14 December. This first mission was flown by USAF jet aircraft along 
Route 8. It was followed on the 17th by carrier-based A-1 and jet aircraft, strik- 
ing along Routes 121 and 12. On the 18th, this pattern of two missions by four 
aircraft each was determined by Secretary of Defense or higher authority to be 
the weekly standard — at least through the third week. Just a day earlier, the 
JCS had proposed a second week's program that included repetition of the first 
week's operation plus missions along Routes 7, 9 and 23. Their proposals were 
prepared with a statement of JCS understanding "that a gradual increase in in- 
tensity of operations is intended for the second week." Recalling Souvanna 
Phouma's reported request for such operations, they also included a strong rec- 
ommendation that Route 7 be struck as part of the second week's mission. 

This same rationale was voiced by General Johnson in the Principals meeting 
on 19 December. He pointed out that the BARREL ROLL program briefed 
there by Deputy Secretary Vance did not represent any intensification beyond the 
previous week's efl'ort. Vance confirmed that not intensifying the program had 
been one of the criteria applied in selecting the second week's missions. Con- 
sensus was reached by the Principals that the program should remain about the 
same for the next two weeks, in accordance with the most recent guidance. 

At the end of December, when there was serious question about the efficacy 
of maintaining the direction of U.S. policy in South Vietnam, Defense officials 
requested an evaluation of the BARREL ROLL program. In particular, they were 
concerned as to "why neither the DRV nor the Communist Chinese had made 
any public mention of or appeared to have taken cognizance of our BARREL 
ROLL operations." In response, a DIA assessment indicated that the Communists 
apparently had made no "distinction between BARREL ROLL missions on the 
one hand and the Laotian T-28 strikes and YANKEE TEAM missions on the 
other." Attributing all stepped up operations in Laos to the United States and 
its "lackeys," they had lumped all operations together. DIA observed that "it 
would be most difficult to distinguish between YANKEE TEAM with its flat 
suppression aircraft from the BARREL ROLL missions." Further, the assessment 
observed that "BARREL ROLL strikes have followed T-28 strikes by varying 
periods of time and have been of lesser intensity. They probably appear to be 
a continuation of the Laotian program." It concluded: 

On balance, therefore, while the Communists are apparently aware of some 
increased use of U.S. aircraft, they probably have not considered the BAR- 
REL ROLL strikes to date as a significant change in the pattern or as repre- 
senting a new threat to their activities. 

Despite the lack of discernible Communist reaction to BARREL ROLL by 
the end of the year and considerable concern among the JCS, there was little 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 255 

change in the operation during early January. On the 4th, CINCPAC was au- 
thorized to go ahead with the fourth week's program: 

One U.S. armed reconnaissance /pre-briefed air strike mission in Laos for 
the week of 4-10 January 1965, is approved. Additional missions will be 
the subject of later message. (Italic added) 

The approved mission called for night armed reconnaissance along Route 7, the 
first of its kind. At the time, the JCS were awaiting a decision on their proposals 
for a complementary mission, but the Department of State had objected to their 
choice of a secondary target because it was located near Cambodian territory. 
Earlier in the series, the Tchepone barracks had been deleted as a secondary 
mission by the White House because a Hanson Baldwin article had named it as 
a likely target. On 5 January, the JCS representative reminded the Principals 
that the currently approved BARREL ROLL mission constituted the fourth 
week of these operations and, therefore, would terminate the initial 30-day period 
of Phase One pressures. The JCS were quite concerned that there had not yet 
been plans made for a "transition phase" of stepped up attacks to begin around 

c. Surfacing Infiltration Evidence. An integral part of the Administration's 
pressures policy, porticularly if U.S. forces were to be involved in direct attacks 
on North Vietnam, was the presentation to the public of convincing evidence 
of DRV responsibility for the precarious situation in South Vietnam. As seen 
earlier, a former intelligence specialist, Chester Cooper, was selected to compile 
a public account of the infiltration of trained cadre and guerrilla fighters, to be 
used for this purpose. His account was to be developed from the various classi- 
fied reports that had been produced and was to lay particular stress on the alarm- 
ing increase in the rate of infiltration in [words illegible] 1964. 

[Words illegible] his paper on 4 December. It was based on (1) a State- 
sponsored updating of the so-called Jorden Report, which described also the 
DRV's direction, control and materiel support of the insurgency (this had been 
discussed during the policy discussions in the Spring and initiated during the 
Summer); (2) the MACV infiltration study, based on interrogations of VC 
prisoners and completed in October; and (3) reports from a DIA/CIA/INR 
team who went to Saigon in mid-November to evaluate the MACV report (they 
confirmed its validity). His report consisted of four items: (1) a summary state- 
ment and a more detailed public discussion of VC infiltration; (2) a list of 
possible questions and suggested answers for use with the press or the Congress; 
(3) "a reconciliation, or at least an explanation of past low estimates of infiltra- 
tion given in Congressional testimony and to the press"; and (4) a listing of 
available documentary evidence and graphic materials to aid in public presenta- 
tions. In his covering memorandum. Cooper urged that the materials be for- 
warded to Saigon so as to make MACV and Embassy officials fully aware of 
the proposed approach and to make consistent its use by U.S. and GVN per- 

The Cooper materials were forwarded for review to the Saigon Embassy on 8 
December, and to the Principals on the 9th. Shortly thereafter, Secretary Rusk 
cabled Ambassador Taylor, expressing his concern that early release of the 
infiltration data "would generate pressures for actions beyond what we now 
contemplate." He sought Taylor's advice as to whether release would be wise. In 
the Ambassador's reply, he urged early release. He stated, "I do not feel that, 

256 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

at this point, the substance of the release will generate pressure for extreme 
action." Moreover, he expressed the view that release would serve to quiet the 
currently rife speculation among news correspondents and parts of the GVN 
concerning what the United States was intending to do in SVN. Citing a New 
York Daily News article (7 December) as an example of what he felt were 
increasingly likely leaks, he expressed his desire to make planned deliberate an- 
nouncements of what the United States was now doing and what might be done 
in the future. He expressed his intention to have the GVN release the report on 
infiltration, complete with press briefings and statements, between 10-17 De- 

Despite strong recommendations from the field to release the infiltration data, 
the Principals determined that it should not yet be made public. During the 
first part of December, the chief advocate for not releasing it was Secretary 
McNamara. At their meeting on 12 December, Mr. Vance stated that Mr. 
McNamara wanted to withhold the infiltration data for the time being. His 
rationale was not recorded in the minutes. The State Department opinion in 
response was that the Department "did not consider it of any great moment." 
Thereafter, the Principals decided that release should be withheld, at least until 
their next meeting, on 19 December. By the time they met again Ambassador 
Taylor had reported that the ARVN intelligence chief had reviewed the 
original infiltration report and the proposed press release and had "concurred 
in commending declassification." On the 16th Ambassador Sullivan praised the 
Cooper report and suggested passing it to Souvanna Phouma prior to what he 
hoped would be a prompt public release. At the Principals meeting these views 
were cited in a strong statement by William Bundy concerning the problems of 
keeping the infiltration evidence out of the press. General Johnson, Acting 
Chairman, JCS, favored release as a morale boost to U.S. personnel in South 
Vietnam. McGeorge Bundy and Carl Rowan (USIA) favored gradual or piece- 
meal release. However, Mr. Vance repeated Secretary McNamara's wish to con- 
tinue suppression of the infiltration report — possibly for an indefinite period. 
This view finally prevailed, as the Principals agreed not to release the Cooper 
report either in Saigon or Washington. Instead, they felt that the President might 
disseminate some of the information through such vehicles as his State of the 
Union message or in a contemplated Christmas address to U.S. forces in Saigon. 

Following the meeting, but before receiving reports concerning the current 
political upheaval in Saigon, the State Department cabled the Administration's 
decision not to make a formal GVN/U.S. release of the infiltration data. It gave 
as rationale the feeling that formal release "could be misinterpreted and become 
vehicle [for] undesirable speculation" and suggested alternative procedures. 
Stating that "general background briefings . . . should continue to indicate in- 
filtration has increased without getting into specifics," it indicated that under 
pressure, the Saigon Embassy "could have one or more deep background sessions 
with [the] American forces." The cable cautioned, however, that specific numbers 
and comparisons with previous years' estimates should be avoided. These would 
not be released, it was advised, until late in January after senior Administration 
officials had testified to Congress in a scheduled inquiry. The current aim was 
stated "to get general picture into survey stories such as Grose article of No- 
vember 1 rather than as spot news commanding wide attention." The cable 
concluded by acknowledging a "just received" Taylor message and approving 
his stated judgment to proceed with periodic background briefings in Saigon, 
along lines outlined above. 

Following the rift between the South Vietnamese military leaders and the 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 257 

American Embassy, resistance to the release of infiltration data hardened. In 
cables of 24 December, Ambassador Taylor was instructed to avoid background 
briefings on the infiltration increases until the political situation clarified. He 
was counseled that release of the data would be "unwise" unless he were to 
obtain evidence that the South Vietnamese military was planning to go ahead 
with a unilateral release. These instructions prevailed until well into January, 

d. Consultations with "Third Countries." In the days immediately following 
the policy decisions of 1-3 December, several U.S. allies were consulted con- 
cerning the intended U.S. approach to Southeast Asia. In accord with the Prin- 
cipals' views, the governments of Thailand and Laos were briefed by the 
respective U.S. Ambassadors to those countries. Foreign minister Thanat 
Khoman later visited the President in Washington and presumably pursued the 
matter further. The Canadians were contacted in both Ottawa and Washington. 
William Bundy held discussions in New Zealand and Australia on 4-5 Decem- 
ber. Prime Minister Wilson of the United Kingdom was thoroughly briefed 
during a series of meetings in Washington, 7-9 December. Later, William Bundy 
told the Principals that the U.K., Australia and New Zealand received the full 
picture of immediate U.S. actions and its stipulations to the GVN and the 
potential two-phased concept of graduated pressures on North Vietnam. The 
Canadian government was told slightly less. The Philippines, South Korea and 
the Republic of China were briefed on Phase One only. 

One of the aims stressed by President Johnson in the meeting of 1 and 3 
December, and continually thereafter, was obtaining increased assistance for 
the GVN and for our efforts on its behalf from our allies. During the 12 
December Principals meeting, for example, William Bundy related the Presi- 
dent's recent wish to obtain assistance even from governments without strong 
Southeast Asia commitments, like Denmark, West Germany, and India. This was 
mentioned in the context of a summary report on current "third-country as- 
sistance of all kinds to South Vietnam." 

At the time, however, not only general assistance from many countries but 
specifically military assistance from a select few was particularly sought. During 
the consultations with allied governments, both Australia and New Zealand 
were pressed to send troop units to assist ARVN. Both supported the U.S. 
policy decisions as probably necessary, but neither was willing at the time to 
make a commitment. New Zealand officials expressed grave doubts that Phase 
Two would lead to negotiations, predicting instead that the DRV would only 
increase the clandestine troop deployments to the South. They expressed doubts 
about the advisability of sending allied ground forces into South Vietnam. 

The concept under which the allied troop deployments were believed de- 
sirable was related to that which the NSC Working Group had recommended 
as deserving further study. Contemplated was an international force built around 
one U.S. division to be deployed just south of the DMZ in conjunction with 
stepped-up U.S./GVN air operations against North Vietnam. In essence, there- 
fore, it was a Phase Two concept, dependent in some respects on the degree of 
success achieved during Phase One activities. The concept was examined in 
detail by the Joint Staff in early December, and their staff study was forwarded 
to the services and the Joint Pacific Headquarters "for comment and recom- 
mendations" on 10 December. The purposes cited for such a force deployment 
by the Joint Staff were stated as follows: (1) to deter ground invasion by the 
DRV; (2) to hold a "blocking position against DRV attacks to down the coastal 

258 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

plain and make more difficult DRV efforts to bypass"; and (3) to be "capable 
of holding the defensive positions against attack [words illegible] While the 
State Department and other non-military agencies apparently favored it, the 
Department of Defense was less than enthusiastic. At the 19 December Prin- 
cipals meeting, for example, all of those present agreed that "suitable planning 
toward such a force should go forward" except Assistant Defense Secretary 
McNaughton. He stated that he thought the idea had been shelved. Later, in 
their review of the Joint Staff's study, the services expressed reservations con- 
cerning the concept. They questioned its military utility, due to deployments 
being framed essentially within a narrow deterrent contour. They recommended 
instead a continued adherence to the deployment concept in the approved 
SEATO plans, which in their totality were aimed at the military defense of all 
Southeast Asia. The Army, in particular, expressed concern regarding routes 
and modes of possible DRV advance into South Vietnam that differed from 
those assumed by the study's below-the-DMZ concept. The Air Force pointed out 
that the international force concept conflicted with the JCS concept for deterring 
and dealing with overt DRV/CHICOM aggression as submitted on 14 De- 
cember (JCSM-955-64). 

Mr. McNaughton's comments on 19 December seem to have been correct. 
The case files containing the service comments in the international force concept 
indicate no further action by the JCS after mid-January. 

In the meantime, however, a different approach to attracting wider allied 
participation in the military defense of South Vietnam appeared promising. On 
29 December, OSD/ISA reported readiness on the part of the Philippine, ROK 
and GRC Governments to provide various forms of assistance to South Vietnam. 
Included in the available Philippine and Korean packages were an assortment 
of military forces. The ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff offered a combat engineer 
battalion, an engineer field maintenance team, an Army transportation company, 
and a Marine Corps combat engineer company. The Philippine Government 
stated its willingness to send a reinforced infantry battalion, an engineer con- 
struction battalion, and some Special Forces units. 

2. Relations with the GVN 

Following his second meeting with President Johnson, Ambassador Taylor 
returned to Saigon. He arrived on 6 December amid press speculation con- 
cerning the details of his instructions and subsequent U.S. actions. The basic 
charge given him by the President had been well publicized since their meeting 
on the 1st: "to consult urgently with the government of Prime Minister Tran 
Van Huong as to measures to be taken to improve the situation in all its 
aspects." However, such a diplomatically worded statement left much room for 
imaginative interpretation — particularly in view of the Ambassador's "unan- 
nounced stopover in Hong Kong to get a briefing by U.S. 'China Watchers' in 
that listening post." Several correspondents speculated on the likelihood of air 
action. An apparent inside source even reported that these would be held in 
abeyance pending the outcome of strikes in Laos and the GVN reaction to U.S. 
suggestions for improvement. 

a. Joint Planning. In the days immediately following his return, Ambassador 
Taylor's schedule precipitated press reports of frantic activity within the Em- 
bassy and other parts of the U.S. Mission in Saigon. Taylor first briefed his 
Embassy Council and the Embassy staff on the policy discussions in Washington 
and the joint U.S./GVN courses of action which it was hoped would be followed 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 259 

in South Vietnam during ensuing weeks. On 7 December, he met with Premier 
Huong and his senior ministers and with General Khanh. On these occasions he 
outlined the military and diplomatic actions which the U.S. Government in- 
tended to take during Phase One and explained how the Administration related 
the possibilities of Phase Two actions to GVN performance. The Ambassador 
described in general terms the kinds of administrative improvements and joint 
planning activities which U.S. officials thought the GVN should undertake. 

Similar sessions were held during the next few days, as the details for the joint 
GVN/U.S. efforts were worked out. On the evening of the 8th, Ambassador 
Taylor held a reception for members of the high National Council, and General 
Westmoreland hosted the top ARVN generals at dinner. At both occasions, 
Taylor briefed the assembled on U.S. attitudes toward the GVN and, presumably, 
on the Administration's calculations of U.S. risk relative to GVN capability. On 
the following day, he held a lengthy session with Premier Huong, Deputy 
Premier Vien and General Khanh. On this occasion, he distributed a paper out- 
lining nine specific actions which the U.S. Government believed were needed 
to strengthen the GVN and in which the local U.S. Mission was committed to 
help. Taylor reported that the "paper was generally well received" and that 
"specific joint action responsibilities" had been agreed on. These were to be 
confirmed in writing on the following day. On that same day, he submitted a 
proposed GVN press release, describing in general terms the nature of the new 
U.S. assistance to be given and the new areas of GVN and joint GVN/U.S. 
planning, designed to improve the situation in South Vietnam. 

On the 11th, having obtained Administration approval, an official GVN state- 
ment was released to the press. It related that "a series of discussions with the 
U.S. Mission" had just been completed and that the U.S. Government had 
offered additional assistance "to improve the execution of the Government's 
program and to restrain [not 'offset' as originally worded] the mounting infiltra- 
tion of men and equipment" from North Vietnam. Among military measures, 
it specified that U.S. support would enable "increased numbers of [South Viet- 
namese] military, paramilitary and police forces" and would permit "the strength- 
ening of the air defense of South Vietnam." It also mentioned assistance "for a 
variety of forms of industrial, urban and rural development" and promised a 
GVN effort to emphasize security and local government in the rural areas." The 
statement closed with the following two paragraphs, which subsequent events 
made to appear ironic but which were juxtaposed with great care: 

Together, the Government of Vietnam and the United States Mission are 
making joint plans to achieve greater effectiveness against the infiltration 

In the course of the discussions, the United States representatives expressed 
full support for the duly constituted Government of Prime Minister Huong. 

As the following section will show, the joint planning that had just gotten 
under way for reprisal action and Phase Two operations was soon to be halted. 
It was deferred for a period of about three weeks during the forthcoming GVN 
crisis. However, as implicit in the quoted paragraphs above, its resumption pro- 
vided effective U.S. leverage to help bring about an accommodation between the 
military dissidents and the civilian regime. 

b. GVN Crises. Late in the evening of 19 December, high-ranking South 
Vietnamese military leaders, led by General Khanh, moved to remove all power 
from the civilian regime of Premier Huong. The move came in the announced 

260 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

dissolution of the High National Council, which had been serving as a provi- 
sional legislature pending adoption of a permanent constitution, and the arrest 
of some of its members. Air Commodore Ky, acting as spokesman for the mili- 
tary, claimed that their intent was "to act as a mediator [to resolve] all differ- 
ences in order to achieve national unity." The immediate apparent conflict was 
with the Buddhists who had been demonstrating and threatening to provoke 
civil disorders in protest against the Huong government. In Ambassador Taylor's 
view, however, the underlying motive was growing antipathy with particular 
members of the High National Council, brought to a head by the Council's 
refusal to approve a military plan to retire General (Big) Minh from active 
service (and thus remove him from a position to contend with the ruling mili- 
tary clique). Moreover, the military had become quite impatient with the 
civilian officials. 

The general consensus among the Ambassador, General Westmoreland and 
State Department officials was that General Khanh's relationship with the other 
influential generals and younger officers was rather uncertain. Therefore, they 
sought to bolster Premier Huong's resolve to remain in office on the basis of an 
understanding with the generals — even to the extent of seeking Khanh's resig- 
nation or dismissal. When presented with U.S. views, Khanh gave initial ap- 
pearances of recognizing that the military seizure had directly defied the U.S. 
policy position and the stipulated basis for continuing joint GVN/U.S. efforts, 
and of accepting the need to withdraw. However, he quickly attempted to turn 
the crisis into a direct confrontation between himself and Ambassador Taylor. 
On the 22th, he issued a strong public affirmation of the military leaders' actions, 
[words illegible] views "favorable to the common enemies [communism and 
colonialism in any form]," and of the military's resolve "not to carry out the 
policy of any foreign country." On the 24th, information was received that he 
intended to pressure Premier Huong into declaring Ambassador Taylor persona 
non grata. 

Administration reaction to this challenge indicated that it considered Khanh's 
defiance as a threat to the foundations of U.S. policy in South Vietnam. Am- 
bassador Taylor was instructed to inform Huong that the U.S. Government 
regarded the PNG issue as a "matter of gravest importance," and that "any 
acceptance of [Khanh's] demand or hesitation in rejecting it would make it 
virtually impossible ... to continue support [of the] GVN effort." Suggesting 
that Huong might be asked if he thought the "American people could be brought 
to support continued U.S. efforts in SVN in face [of] PNG action against trusted 
Ambassador," the Administration urged persistence in encouraging Huong to 
seek an accommodation with the other military leaders. Moreover, high-ranking 
MACV personnel were urged to exploit their close relationships with South 
Vietnamese counterparts to encourage such an arrangement. As leverage, Taylor 
was encouraged to emphasize the intended directions of U.S. policy, subsequent 
to a strengthened and stable GVN. Specifically, he was urged to point out that 
joint reprisals for unusual VC actions and "any possible future decision to 
initiate [the] second phase" were impossible as long as current conditions 
persisted. He was told, "without offering anything beyond terms of your in- 
structions, you could use these to their fullest to bring [Ky and the other 
generals] around." 

There is no indication in the available sources that this advice was directly 
employed. It is evident, however, that Ambassador Taylor had explained the 
dependency of further U.S. actions on GVN progress very clearly to the key 
military leaders on 8 and 20 December. Therefore, they were well aware that 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 261 

continued U.S. assistance along the policy line explained to them was predicated 
on their cooperation, and this was demonstrated early in the crisis. Even before 
Khanh's pubHc declaration of independence from U.S. policy, it became known 
that joint talks concerning increased aid to the South Vietnamese war effort had 
been suspended. A few days later that fact was given additional circulation, with 
emphasis that this suspension included particularly any discussions of measures 
to reduce the infiltration from Laos and North Vietnam. 

The degree to which the suspensions of joint planning actions affected the 
judgments of the South Vietnamese generals is, of course, not clear. What is 
apparent, however, is that this factor together with careful Embassy and Ad- 
ministration efforts to clarify possible misunderstandings, led the generals to 
reconsider. By 28 December, Ambassador Taylor was reporting encouraging 
signs of an accommodation. On the 29th, Secretary Rusk advised the President 
that the "generals were having second thoughts" and that "he hoped to see 
signs of political unity in Saigon soon." Finally, on the 9th, the generals pledged 
to return to terms agreed to during the previous August whereby matters of 
state would be left in the hands of a civilian government. The joint communique 
issued by Huong and Khanh also promised to speedily convene a representa- 
tive constituent assembly to replace the High National Council. 

The general's reassessments were no doubt helped by a strong U.S. public 
statement directed toward the South Vietnamese press, explaining the U.S. policy 
position toward that country's political situation. In language strikingly similar 
to the President's draft instructions to Taylor, it included the following: 

The primary concern of the United States Government and its representa- 
tives is that there be in Saigon a stable government in place, able to speak 
for all its components, to carry out plans and to execute decisions. Without 
such a government. United States cooperation with and assistance to South 
Vietnam cannot be effective. 

. . . The sole object of United States activities has been and continues 
to be the reestablishment as quickly as possible of conditions favorable to 
the more effective prosecution of the war against the Vietcong." 

Consistent with the expressed U.S. policy position, discussions between U.S. and 
GVN officials concerning explained assistance to the South Vietnamese war 
effort were resumed on 1 1 January. 

However, the aparent reconciliation of South Vietnam's military and civilian 
leadership was short-lived. Close on the heels of an announced GVN decision 
(17 January) to increase its military draft calls — long advocated by the U.S. 
Mission — student and Buddhist riots swept through Hue and Dalat. On the 
20th, as arrangements were completed to appoint four leading generals to 
Premier Huong's cabinet, a leading Buddhist official issued a proclamation 
accusing the Huong Government of attempting to split the Buddhist movement. 
On the 21st, Tri Quang issued a statement charging that the Huong Govern- 
ment could not exist without U.S. support, a charge that gained in intensity in 
the days to follow. On the 23rd, Buddhist leaders ordered a military struggle 
against the United States. Denouncing Premier Huong as a lackey of the U.S. 
Ambassador, they accused Taylor of seeking to wipe out Buddhism in Vietnam. 
In Hue, student-led demonstrators sacked the USIA library and destroyed an 
estimated 8,000 books. Two days later, riots and strikes were in progress in Hue, 
Saigon and Da Nang, and Hue was placed under martial law. Meanwhile, mili- 
tary leaders were attempting to convince Buddhist spokesmen to call off their 

262 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

demonstrations against the GVN and the United States. Finally, on the 27th, 
the generals [words illegible] issued a statement that he was resuming power 
"to resolve the political situation." Soon after, the Buddhist leaders issued orders 
to their followers to halt their demonstrations, at least until they had sufficient 
opportunity to observe the performance of the new regime. 

Thus, in late January the United States Government was faced with a dilemma. 
In December, it had spoken out quite clearly to the effect that its continued 
assistance along previously determined policy lines was dependent upon the 
effective functioning of a duly constituted South Vietnamese government. By 
its actions and statement during the initial December crisis, it had indicated that 
what it had in mind was a civilian regime governing without interference from 
any particular group. Now, less than a month from the settlement of the former 
crisis along lines compatible with the preferred U.S. solution, it was faced with 
another military coup. A time for reassessing former policy decisions and taking 
stock of the shifting debits and assets in the U.S. position had arrived. 

c. Joint Reprisals. Meanwhile, an issue of great significance to the Admin- 
istration, as well as to future relations with the GVN, was adding to the growing 
dissatisfaction with progress achieved in other Phase One actions. One of the 
basic elements in Phase One policy was to have been joint GVN/U.S. reprisal 
actions in response to any "unusual actions" by the VC. When faced with a sig- 
nificant provocation at the end of December, the Administration failed to 
authorize such actions. At the time, the circumstances in South Vietnam pro- 
vided cogent reasons for not doing so, but it nevertheless represented a significant 
departure from the agreed policy position. 

At the height of the first government crisis, on Christmas Eve, the Brink 
U.S. officers billet in downtown Saigon was bombed and severely damaged. Two 
Americans were killed and 38 injured; 13 Vietnamese also were injured. No 
suspicious person was observed near the building, so the responsible party was 
unknown. In reporting the incident, Ambassador Taylor treated it as an occasion 
for reprisal action. The immediate administration assessment was that under 
current political circumstances, neither the American public nor international 
opinion might believe that the VC had done it. Moreover, with clear evidence 
lacking, it felt that a reprisal at this time might appear as though "we are trying 
to shoot our way out of an internal political crisis." Given the political disorder 
in Saigon, the administration believed it would be hard for [the] American 
public to understand action to extend [the] war." Therefore, so the reasoning 
went, it would be undesirable to undertake reprisals at this time. 

Calls for reprisal action came from several quarters. Citing what it called "a 
further indication" of Viet Cong responsibility, and cautioning against adding 
the Brink affair to the Bien Hoa instance of unreciprocated enemy provocation, 
CINCPAC urged a reprisal attack. He argued that the "bombing of Brink BOQ 
was an act aimed directly at U.S. armed force in RVN" and that failure to 
respond would only encourage further attacks. Ambassador Taylor forwarded 
what he termed "a unanimous recommendation" by himself and members of the 
U.S. Mission Council "that a reprisal bombing attack be executed [as soon as 
possible]" on a specified target "accompanied by statement relating this action to 
Brink bombing." He stated that "no one in this part of the world has [the] 
slightest doubt of VC guilt" and pointed out that the NLF was publicly taking 
credit for the incident. Citing Taylor's request and concurring in his recom- 
mendation, even to the specific target selection, the ICS added their voices to 
those arguing for reprisals. In their proposed execute message to CINCPAC, 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 263 

they proposed a one-day mission by 40 strike aircraft against the Vit Thu Lu 
Army barracks. Further, they recommended that the VNAF should participate if 
their state of readiness and time permitted. 

In spite of these strong recommendations, the decision was made not to 
retahate for the Brink bombing incident. On 29 December, the following 
message was dispatched to the U.S. embassies in Southeast Asia and to 

Highest levels today reached negative decision on proposal ... for 
reprisal action for BOQ bombing. We will be sending fuller statement of 
reasoning and considerations affecting future actions after Secretary's re- 
turn from Texas tonight. 

Available materials do not include any further explanation. 

3. Policy Views in January 

As the new year began, the Administration was beset with frustration over 
an apparent lack of impact from Phase One operations, over its failure to take 
reprisals after an attack on U.S. personnel, and over the still troublesome crisis 
within the GVN. In this mood, U.S. policy was subjected to various kinds of 
criticism and comment. Some came from within the Administration, various 
reactions came from outside it. 

a. Public Debate. At the height of the GVN crisis, a number of newspapers 
and periodicals joined with the already committed (in opposition) and influential 
New York Times and .S^. Louis Post Dispatch in questioning U.S. objectives in 
Southeast Asia and/or advocating U.S. withdrawal from the entanglement of 
South Vietnam. In the midst of this kind of public questioning a major debate 
arose among members of Congress. 

In a particularly active television day, Sunday 3 January, Secretary Rusk 
defended Vietnam policy in the context of a year-end foreign policy report. 
Ruling out either a U.S. withdrawal or a major expansion of the war. Rusk 
gave assurances that, with internal unity, and our aid and persistence, the South 
Vietnamese could themselves defeat the insurgency. On another network, three 
Senators expressed impatience with U.S. policy in Vietnam and urged a public 
reevaluation of it. Senator Morse criticized our involvement in South Vietnam 
on a unilateral basis, while Senators Cooper and Monroney spoke in favor of a 
full-fledged Senate debate to "come to grips" with the situation there. Senator 
Mansfield also appeared on the 3rd to urge consideration of Church's neutraliza- 
tion idea as an alternative to current policy but in keeping with the President's 
desire neither to withdraw nor carry the war to North Vietnam. On the 6th, in 
response to an Associated Press survey, the views in the Senate were shown to be 
quite divided. Of 63 Senators commenting, 31 suggested a negotiated settlement 
after the anti-communist bargaining positions were improved, while 10 favored 
negotiating immediately. Eight others favored commitment of U.S. forces against 
North Vietnam, 3 urged immediate withdrawal of U.S. advisers and military aid, 
and 11 stated that they didn't know what should be done other than to help 
strengthen the GVN. On 11 January, Senator Russell reacted to a briefing by 
CIA Director McCone with a statement that "up until now we have been losing 
ground instead of gaining it." He urged reevaluation of the U.S. position in 
South Vietnam, cautioning that unless a more efl'ective government developed 
in Saigon the situation would become a prolonged stalemate at best. 

On 14 January, as a result of reports of the loss of two U.S. jet combat 

264 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

aircraft over Laos, accounts of U.S. air operations against Laotian infiltration 
routes gained wide circulation for the first time. One in particular, a U.P.L 
story by Arthur Dommen, in effect blew the lid on the entire YANKEE 
TEAM operation in Laos since May of 1964. Despite official State or Defense 
refusal to comment on the nature of the Laotian air missions, these disclosures 
added new fuel to the public policy debate. In a Senate speech the following 
day, in which he expressed his uneasiness over ''recent reports of American air 
strikes in Laos and North Vietnam," Senator McGovern criticized what he 
called "the policy, now gaining support in Washington, of extending the war to 
the North." He denied that bombing North Vietnam could "seriously weaken 
guerrilla fighters 1,000 miles away" and urged seeking a "political settlement" 
with North Vietnam. Senator Long and Congressman Ford indicated on a TV 
program that they didn't feel that such operations were "a particularly dangerous 
course" for the nation to follow and that they were the kind of actions that 
could help protect our forces in South Vietnam. Senator Morse criticized the 
bombings as part of the Administration's "foreign policy of concealment in 
Southeast Asia." On the 19th, in the Senate, he repeated his blast, charging that 
the air strikes ignored the 1962 Geneva accord and violated the nation's belief 
in "substituting the rule of law for the jungle law of military might." Broadening 
his attack, he warned that "there is no hope of avoiding a massive war in Asia" 
if the U.S. policy toward Southeast Asia were to continue without change. 

b. Policy Assessments. The intensifying public debate and the events and 
forces which precipitated it brought about an equally searching reassessment of 
policy within the Administration. While there is little evidence in the available 
materials that shows any serious questioning of foreign policy decisions among 
the Principals, questioning did occur within the agencies which they represented. 
It is clear that some of the judgments and alternative approaches were discussed 
with these NSC members, and presumably, some found their way into discus- 
sions with the President. 

One very significant and probably influential viewpoint was registered by the 
Saigon Embassy. In a message described as the reflections of Alexis Johnson 
and Ambassador Taylor on which General Westmoreland concurred, the thrust 
of the advice seemed to be to move into Phase Two, almost in spite of the 
political outcome in Saigon. After listing four possible "solutions" to the then- 
unsettled GVN crisis, Taylor identified either a military takeover coupled with 
Huong's resignation or a successor civilian government dominated by the mili- 
tary as equally the worst possible outcomes. (It is important to note here that, 
depending on how one interprets the structure of the January 27th regime, one 
or the other of these was in fact the case at the beginning of the air strikes in 
February, 1965). In the event of such an outcome, Taylor argued that the 
United States could either "carry on about as we are now" or "seek to disengage 
from the present intimacy of relationship with the GVN" while continuing "to 
accept responsibility for [its] air and maritime defense . . . against the DRV." 
In the case of disengagement, he argued, the United States could offset the 
danger of South Vietnamese leaders being panicked into making a deal with the 
NLF "if we were engaged in reprisal attacks or had initiated Phase Two opera- 
tions against DRV." The message then summarized the three different conditions 
under which the Mission officials thought Phase Two operations could be un- 

A. In association with the GVN after the latter had proved itself as a 
reasonably stable government able to control its armed forces. 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 265 

B. Under a situation such as now as an emergency stimulant hopefully to 
create unity at home and restore failing morale. 

C. As a unilateral U.S. action to compensate for a reduced in-country U.S. 

In other words, under any conceivable alliance condition short of complete U.S. 
abandonment of South Vietnam, Ambassador Taylor and his top level associates 
in Saigon saw the graduated air strikes of Phase Two as an appropriate course 
of action. As they concluded, "without Phase Two operations, we see slight 
chance of moving toward a successful solution." 

Within the more influential sections of the State Department, policy re- 
examination took a similar, though not identical, tack. Rather than adjust the 
substance or projected extent of the pressures policy, the tendency was to re- 
calculate and adjust the conditions under which it was considered appropriate 
to apply it. The motivation for a reassessment was the sense of impending 
disaster in South Vietnam. What the Saigon Embassy reports appear to have 
portrayed at the time as concrete instances of foot-dragging, political maneu- 
vering, and sparring for advantage among political and military leaders seem to 
have been interpreted in Washington as an impending sell-out to the NLF. For 
example, the Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs, who had been an 
important participant in the policy and decision-making processes through most 
of 1964, offered the following prognosis [Doc. 248]: 

. . . the situation in Vietnam is now likely to come apart more rapidly 
than we had anticipated in November. We would still stick to the estimate 
that the most likely form of coming apart would be a government or key 
groups starting to negotiate covertly with the Liberation Front or Hanoi, 
perhaps not asking in the first instance that we get out, but with that 
necessarily following at a fairly early stage. 

The perceived impact of a collapse in Saigon on other nations — perhaps even 
more than the political fortunes of South Vietnam itself — were a significant part 
of the State Department calculations. If a unilateral "Vietnam solution" were 
to be arranged, so the thinking went in January 1965, not only would Laos and 
Cambodia be indefensible, but Thailand's position would become unpredictable. 
Bundy wrote: 

Most seriously, there is grave question whether the Thai in these circum- 
stances would retain any confidence at all in our continued support. . . . 
As events have developed, the American public would probably not be too 
sharply critical, but the real question would be whether Thailand and other 
nations were weakened and taken over thereafter. 

There was also a perceived lack of reaction or effectiveness in U.S. policies 
during the late autumn. Bundy reflected an apparently widely shared concern 
that Administration actions and statements since the election had convinced the 
Vietnamese and other Asians that the U.S. Government did not intend to take 
stronger action and was "possibly looking for a way out." Moreover, he saw this 
impression being created by our "insisting on a more perfect government than 
can reasonably be expected, before we consider any additional action — and that 
we might even pull out our support unless such a government emerges." 

To change this impression and reverse the disturbing trends, Bundy and others 

266 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

in State suggested stronger actions, even though recognizing that these actions 
incurred certain risks. However, the immediate actions suggested fell somewhat 
short of Phase Two (a term that was now used in the correspondence). They 
included: (1) "an early occasion for reprisal action . . ."; (2) "possibly be- 
ginning low-level reconnaissance of DRV . . ."; (3) "an orderly withdrawal 
of our dependents," which was termed "a grave mistake in the absence of 
stronger action"; and (4) "introduction of limited U.S. ground forces into the 
northern area of South Vietnam . . . concurrently with the first air attacks into 
the DRV." They downgraded the potential of further intensifying the air opera- 
tions in Laos, indicating that such actions "would not meet the problem of 
Saigon morale" and might precipitate a "Communist intervention on a sub- 
stantial scale in Laos. . . ." The perceived risks of the suggested actions were: 
( 1 ) a deepened U.S. commitment at a time when South Vietnamese will ap- 
peared weak; (2) the likelihood of provoking open opposition to U.S. policies in 
nations like India and Japan; (3) the uncertainty of any meaningful stiffening 
effort on the GVN; and (4) the inability of "limited actions against the southern 
DRV" to sharply reduce infiltration or "to induce Hanoi to call it off." 

If the graduated, "progressively mounting," air operations of Phase Two were 
implied by these suggestions, it appears that they were perceived as being entered 
rather gingerly and with little intent to intensify them to whatever extent might 
be required to force a decision in Hanoi. Rather, the expectancies in State were 
quite different: "On balance we believe that such action would have some 
faint hope of really improving the Vietnamese situation, and, above all, would 
put us in a much stronger position to hold the next line of defense, namely 
Thailand." Moreover, Bundy and others felt that even with the stronger actions, 
the negotiating process that they believed was bound to come about could not 
be expected to bring about a really secure and independent South Vietnam. 
Still, despite this shortcoming, they reasoned that their suggested "stronger ac- 
tions" would have the desirable effect in Southeast Asia: ". . . we would still 
have appeared to Asians to have done a lot more about it." 

High among the State Department's concerns over the impact of U.S. Viet- 
nam policy on the rest of Southeast Asia were current developments in the 
communist world. For one thing, the Soviet Union had re-entered Southeast 
Asian politics in an active way, after a period of nearly three years of diligent 
detachment. Following a reported Soviet pledge in November to increase eco- 
nomic and military aid to North Vietnam, the Administration held a series of 
conversations in December with representatives of the new Soviet regime. 
During at least one of these — in addition to exchanging the now standard re- 
spective lines about who violated the Geneva Accord — ^Secretary Rusk stressed 
the seriousness of the situation created by Hanoi's and Peking's policies, im- 
plying strongly that we would remain in South Vietnam until those policies had 
changed or had resulted in "a real scrap." Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko 
replied that if the United States felt so strongly about improving the situation 
in Vietnam, it should be willing to attend an international conference to discuss 
Laos and Vietnam. However, he would not agree with Rusk's request for assur- 
ances that Laos would be represented by Souvanna Phouma. 

Within a few weeks of this conversation, Mr. Gromyko sent assurances to 
the DRV that the Soviet Union would support it in the face of aggressive ac- 
tions by the United States. Further, he expressed the official Soviet view that it 
was the duty of all participants in the Geneva agreements to take the steps 
necessary to frustrate U.S. military plans to extend the war in Indo-China. 
This note, sent on 30 December, was made public in a renewed call on 4 Janu- 

Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, Feb. 1964-Jan. 1965 267 

ary for a conference on Laos, to be convened without preconditions. On 17 
January, Pravda carried an authoritative statement warning that "the provoca- 
tions of the armed forces of the United States and their Saigon puppets against 
North Vietnam" carried dangers of "large armed conflict," and citing naval 
attacks on the DRV coast and U.S. air attacks in Laos as examples. On the 22nd, 
in letters to both Hanoi and Peking, Gromyko reiterated the Soviet pledge to 
aid North Vietnam in resisting any U.S. military action. 

In addition to renewed Soviet activity in Southeast Asia, that of Communist 
China also appeared ominous. Fanned by Sukarno's abrupt withdrawal of Indo- 
nesia's participation in the U.N., some U.S. officials voiced concern over the 
development of a "Peking-Jakarta axis" to promote revolution in Asia. North 
Vietnam, together with North Korea, were seen as natural allies who might join 
in to form an international grouping exerting an attraction on other Asian states 
to counter that of the U.N. Peking was viewed as the instigator and prime bene- 
factor of such a grouping. 

Complementing the State Department policy assessments, were those in OSD. 
For example, in early January, Assistant Secretary McNaughton regarded U.S. 
stakes in South Vietnam as [Doc. 247]: (1) to hold onto "buffer real estate" 
near Thailand and Malaysia and (2) to maintain our national reputation; and 
the latter was the more important of the two. Sharing the State view that South 
Vietnam was being lost ("this means that a government not unfriendly to the 
DRV would probably emerge within two years"), he believed that the U.S. 
reputation would suffer least "if we continue to support South Vietnam and if 
Khanh and company continue to behave like children as the game is lost." How- 
ever, he pointed out that "dogged perseverance" was also recommended because 
the situation might possibly improve. 

In specific terms, McNaughton defined perseverance as including the follow- 
ing course of action: 

a. Continue to take risks on behalf of SVN. A reprisal should be carried 
out soon. (Dependents could be removed at that time.) 

b. Keep slugging away. Keep help flowing, BUT do not increase the 
number of U.S. men in SVN. (Additional U.S. soldiers are as likely to be 
counter-productive as productive.) 

c. Do not lead or appear to lead in any negotiations. Chances of re- 
versing the tide will be better and, if we don't reverse the tide, our repu- 
tation will emerge in better condition. 

d. If we leave, be sure it is a departure of the kind which would put 
everyone on our side, wondering_how_w£^tuck ^ U took it so long, — . 

In the event of inability to prevent deterioration within South Vietnam, he urged 
the development of plans to move to a fallback position by helping shore-up 
Thailand and Malaysia. 

An OSD assessment made immediately after the Khanh coup in late January 
adds perspective to this viewpoint. [Doc. 249] In it, McNaughton stated and 
Secretary McNamara agreed, "U.S. objective in South Vietnam is not to 'help 
friend' but to contain China." In particular, both Malaysia and Thailand were 
seen as the next targets of Chinese aggressiveness. Neither official saw any al- 
ternative to "keep plugging," insofar as U.S. efforts inside South Vietnam were 
concerned. However, outside the borders, both favored initiating strikes against 
North Vietnam. At first, they believed, these should take the form of reprisals; 
beyond that, the Administration would have to "feel its way" into stronger, 
graduated pressures. McNaughton doubted that such strikes would actually 

268 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

help the situation in South Vietnam but thought they should be carried out 
anyway. McNamara believed they probably would help the situation, in addi- 
tion to their broader impacts on the U.S. position in Southeast Asia. 

Though ditTerent in some respects, all of these policy views pointed in a 
similar direction. In his own way, each Principal argued that it was unproduc- 
tive to hold off on further action against North Vietnam until the GVN began 
to operate in an effective manner. Each suggested broader benefits that could 
be gained for the United States if firmer measures were taken directly against the 

The impact of these views can be seen in the policy guidance emanating from 
Washington in mid and late January 1965. For example, on the 11th, Ambassa- 
dor Taylor was apprised of Administration doubts that General Khanh had 
put aside his intentions to stage a coup and was given counsel for such an 
eventuality. Essentially, the guidance was to avoid actions that would further 
commit the United States to any particular form of political solution. The un- 
derlying rationale expressed was that if a military government did emerge, "we 
might well have to swallow our pride and work with it." Apparently, the Ad- 
ministration's adamant insistence on an effective GVN along lines specified by 
the United States had been eroded. However, on the 14th guidance to Taylor 
indicated that the Administration had not yet determined to move into a phase 
of action more vigorous than the current one. In the immediate wake of public 
disclosures concerning the bombing operations in Laos, Secretary Rusk con- 
curred in Taylor's proposal to brief the GVN leaders on these operations, but 
cautioned against encouraging their expectations of new U.S. moves against the 
North. Rusk considered it "essential that they not be given [the] impression that 
[BARREL ROLL, etc.] represents a major step-up of activity against the DRV 
or that it represents an important new phase of U.S. operational activity." The 
immediate matter for speculation was the striking of a key highway bridge in 
Laos, but the program still called for two missions per week. 

Clear indication that the Administration was contemplating some kind of 
increased military activity came on 25 January. Ambassador Taylor was asked 
to comment on the "Departmental view" that U.S. dependents should be with- 
drawn to "clear the decks" in Saigon and enable better concentration of U.S. 
efforts on behalf of South Vietnam. Previously, the JCS had reversed their 
initial position on this issue and requested the removal, a view which was for- 
warded to State "for consideration at the highest levels of government" in mid- 
January. Recalling the Bundy policy assessment of 6 January, it will be noted 
that clearing the decks by removing dependents was recommended only in 
association with "stronger actions." However, there is no indication of any 
decision at this point to move into Phase Two. The Rusk cable made specific 
reference to a current interest in reprisal actions. Moreover, consideration of 
later events and decisions compels the judgment that it was only reprisals which 
the Administration had in mind as January drew to a close. 


3. The Air War in North Vietnam: 
RoUing Thunder Begins, February-June, 1965 

Summary and Analysis 

The United States decisions, in the early months of 1965, to launch a program 
of reprisal air strikes against North Vietnam, evolving progressively into a sus- 
tained bombing campaign of rising intensity, were made against a background of 
anguished concern over the threat of imminent collapse of the Government of 
South Vietnam and of its military effort against the Viet Cong. The air v^ar 
against the North was launched in the hope that it would strengthen GVN con- 
fidence and cohesion, and that it would deter or restrain the DRV from continu- 
ing its support of the revolutionary war in the South. There was hope also that 
a quite modest bombing effort would be sufficient; that the demonstration of US 
determination and the potential risks and costs to the North implicit in the early 
air strikes would provide the US with substantial bargaining leverage; and that 
it would redress the "equation of advantage" so that a political settlement might 
be negotiated on acceptable terms. 

Once set in motion, however, the bombing effort seemed to stiffen rather than 
soften Hanoi's backbone, as well as to lessen the willingness of Hanoi's allies, 
particularly the Soviet Union, to work toward compromise. Moreover, com- 
promise was ruled out in any event, since the negotiating terms that the US pro- 
posed were not "compromise" terms, but more akin to a "cease and desist" order 
that, from the DRV/VC point of view, was tantamount to a demand for their 

As Hanoi remained intractable in the face of a mere token demonstration of 
U.S. capability and resolve, U.S. policy shifted to a more deliberate combination 
of intensified military pressures and modest diplomatic enticements. The carrot 
was added to the stick in the form of an economic development gesture, but the 
coercive element remained by far the more tangible and visible component of 
U.S. policy. To the slowly but relentlessly rising air pressures against the North 
was added the deployment of US combat forces to the South. In response to 
public pressures, a major diplomatic opportunity was provided Hanoi for a quiet 
backdown through a brief bombing pause called in mid-May, but the pause 
seemed to be aimed more at clearing the decks for a subsequent intensified re- 
sumption than it was at evoking a reciprocal act of de-escalation by Hanoi. The 
U.S. initiative, in any event, was unmistakably rebuffed by North Vietnam and 
by its Communist allies, and the opposing positions were more hopelessly dead- 
locked than ever before. 

It is the purpose of this study to reconstruct the immediate circumstances 
that led up to the U.S. reprisal decision of February 1965, to retrace the changes 
in rationale that progressively transformed the reprisal concept into a sustained 
graduated bombing effort, and to chronicle the relationship between that effort 
and the military-political moves to shore up Saigon and the military-diplomatic 
signals to dissuade Hanoi, during the crucial early months of February through 
May of 1965. 


270 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

Background to Pleiku. The growing realization, throughout 1964, that the 
final consolidation of VC power in South Vietnam was a distinct possibility, 
had led to a protracted US policy reassessment and a determined search for force- 
ful military alternatives in the North that might help salvage the deteriorating 
situation in the South. The proposed program of graduated military pressures 
against North Vietnam that emerged from this reassessment in late 1964 had 
three major objectives: (1) to signal to the Communist enemy the firmness of 
U.S. resolve, (2) to boost the sagging morale of the GVN in the South, and 
(3) to impose increased costs and strains upon the DRV in the North. Under- 
lying the rationale of the program was the hope that it might restore some equi- 
librium to the balance of forces, hopefully increasing the moment of US/GVN 
bargaining leverage sufficiently to permit an approach to a negotiated solution 
on something other than surrender terms. 

Throughout the planning process (and even after the initiation of the pro- 
gram) the President's principal advisors differed widely in their views as to the 
intensity of the bombing effort that would be desirable or required, and as to 
its likely effectiveness in influencing Hanoi's will to continue its aggression. The 
JCS, for example, consistently argued that only a most dramatic and forceful 
application of military power would exert significant pressure on North Vietnam, 
but firmly believed that such application could and would affect the enemy's will. 
Most civilian officials in State, OSD, and the White House, on the other hand, 
tended to favor a more gradual, restrained approach, "progressively mounting in 
scope and intensity," in which the prospect of greater pressure to come was at 
least as important as any damage actually inflicted. But these oflicials also tended, 
for the most part, to have much less confidence that such pressures would have 
much impact on Hanoi's course, making such equivocal assessments as: "on 
balance we believe that such action would have some faint hope of really im- 
proving the Vietnamese situation." 

Reprisal Planning. In spite of these rather hesitant judgments, the graduated 
approach was adopted and a program of relatively mild military actions aimed 
at North Vietnam was set in motion beginning in December 1964. At the same 
time, detailed preparations were made to carry out bombing strikes against tar- 
gets in North Vietnam in reprisal for any future attacks on U.S. forces. These 
preparations were made chiefly in connection with the occasional DESOTO 
Patrols that the US Navy conducted in the Gulf of Tonkin which had been fired 
upon or menaced by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on several previous oc- 
casions during 1964. In order to be prepared for an attack on any future patrol, 
a pre-packaged set of reprisal targets was worked up by CINCPAC on instruc- 
tions from the JCS, and pre-assigned forces were maintained in a high state of 
readiness to strike these targets in accordance with a detailed strike plan that 
provided a range of retaliatory options. 

In late January, a DESOTO Patrol was authorized to begin on Feb. 3 (later 
postponed to Feb. 7) and Operation Order FLAMING DART was issued by 
CINCPAC, providing for a number of alternative US air strike reprisal actions 
in the eventuality that the DESOTO Patrol were to be attacked or that any 
other provocation were to occur, such as a spectacular VC incident in South 
Vietnam. At the last moment, however, the Patrol was called off in deference to 
Soviet Premier Kosygin's imminent visit to Hanoi. U.S. officials hoped that the 
USSR might find it in its interest to act as an agent of moderation vis a vis 
Hanoi in the Vietnam conflict, and wished to avoid any act that might be inter- 
preted as deliberately provocative. Nevertheless, it was precisely at the beginning 

The Air War in North Vietnam, February-June 1965 111 

of the Kosygin visit, during the early morning hours of February 7, that the VC 
launched their spectacular attack on US installations at Pleiku, thus triggering 
FLAMING DART I, the first of the new carefully programmed US/GVN re- 
prisal strikes. 

Imperceptible Transition. By contrast with the earlier Tonkin strikes of August, 
1964 which had been presented as a one-time demonstration that North Vietnam 
could not flagrantly attack US forces with impunity, the February 1965 raids 
were explicitly linked with the "larger pattern of aggression" by North Vietnam, 
and were a reprisal against North Vietnam for an offense committed by the VC 
in South Vietnam. When the VC staged another dramatic attack on Qui Nhon 
on Feb. 10, the combined US/GVN response, named FLAMING DART II, 
was not characterized as an event-associated reprisal but as a generalized response 
to "continued acts of aggression." The new terminology reflected a conscious 
U.S. decision to broaden the reprisal concept as gradually and imperceptibly as 
possible to accommodate a much wider policy of sustained, steadily intensifying 
air attacks against North Vietnam, at a rate and on a scale to be determined 
by the U.S. Although discussed publicly in very muted tones, the second FLAM- 
ING DART operation constituted a sharp break with past US policy and set the 
stage for the continuing bombing program that was now to be launched in ear- 

Differences in Advocacy. While all but one or two of the President's principal 
Vietnam advisors favored the initiation of a sustained bombing program, there 
were significant difl'erences among them. McGeorge Bundy and Ambassador 
Maxwell Taylor, for example, both advocated a measured, controlled sequence 
of raids, carried out jointly with the GVN and directed solely against DRV 
military targets and infiltration routes. In their view, the intensity of the attacks 
was to be varied with the level of VC outrages in SVN or might be progressively 
raised. But whereas McGeorge Bundy's objective was to influence the course of 
the struggle in the South (boosting GVN morale, improving US bargaining power 
with the GVN, exerting a depressing effect on VC cadre), Ambassador Taylor's 
principal aim was "to bring increasing pressure on the DRV to cease its inter- 
vention." It was coercion of the North, rather than a rededication of the GVN 
to the struggle in the South that Taylor regarded as the real benefit of a reprisal 
policy. CINCPAC, on the other hand, insisted that the program would have to 
be a very forceful one — a "graduated pressures" rather than a "graduated re- 
prisal" philosophy — if the DRV were to be persuaded to accede to a cessation on 
U.S. terms. The Joint Chiefs, in turn (and especially Air Force Chief of Staff 
General McConnell), believed that the much heavier air strike recomendations 
repeatedly made by the JCS during the preceding six months were more appro- 
priate than the mild actions proposed by Taylor and Bundy. 

Initiating ROLLING THUNDER. A firm decision to adopt "a program of 
measured and limited air action jointly with the GVN against selected military 
targets in the DRV" was made by the President on February 13, and communi- 
cated to Ambassador Taylor in Saigon. Details of the program were deliberately 
left vague, as the President wished to preserve maximum flexibility. The first 
strike was set for February 20 and Taylor was directed to obtain GVN concur- 
rence. A semi-coup in Saigon, however, compelled postponement and cancella- 
tion of this and several subsequent strikes. Political clearance was not given 
until the turbulence was calmed with the departure of General Nguyen Khanh 

272 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

from Vietnam on Feb 25. U.S. reluctance to launch air attacks during this time 
was further reinforced by a UK-USSR diplomatic initiative to reactivate the 
Cochairmanship of the 1954 Geneva Conference with a view to involving the 
members of that conference in a consideration of the Vietnam crisis. Air strikes 
executed at that moment, it was feared, might sabotage that diplomatic gambit, 
which Washington looked upon not as a potential negotiating opportunity, but 
as a convenient vehicle for public expression of a tough U.S. position. The Co- 
Chairmen gambit, however, languished — and eventually came to naught. The 
first ROLLING THUNDER strike was finally rescheduled for Feb 26. This 
time adverse weather forced its cancellation and it was not until March 2 that 
the first of the new program strikes, dubbed ROLLING THUNDER V, was 
actually carried out. 

In the closing days of February and during early March, the Administration 
undertook publicly and privately to defend and propound its rationale for the 
air strikes, stressing its determination to stand by the GVN, but reaffirming the 
limited nature of its objectives toward North Vietnam. Secretary Rusk conducted 
a marathon public information campaign to signal a seemingly reasonable but 
in fact quite tough US position on negotiations, demanding that Hanoi "stop 
doing what it is doing against its neighbors" before any negotiations could prove 
fruitful. Rusk's disinterest in negotiations at this time was in concert with the 
view of virtually all the President's key advisors, that the path to peace was not 
then open. Hanoi held sway over more than half of South Vietnam and could 
see the Saigon Government crumbling before her very eyes. The balance of 
power at this time simply did not furnish the U.S. with a basis for bargaining 
and Hanoi had not reason to accede to the hard terms the U.S. had in mind. 
Until military pressures on North Vietnam could tilt the balance of forces the 
other way, talk of negotiation could be little more than a hollow exercise. 

Evolving a Continuing Program. Immediately after the launching of the first 
ROLLING THUNDER strike, efforts were set in motion to increase the effec- 
tiveness, forcefulness and regularity of the program. US aircraft loss rates came 
under McNamara's scrutiny, with the result that many restrictions on the use 
of U.S. aircraft and special ordnance were lifted, and the air strike technology 
improved. Sharp annoyance was expressed by Ambassador Taylor over what he 
considered an unnecessarily timid and ambivalent US stance regarding the fre- 
quency and weight of U.S. air attacks. He called for a more dynamic schedule 
of strikes, a several week program, relentlessly marching North, to break the 
will of the DRV. Army Chief of Staff General Johnson, returning from a Presi- 
dential survey mission to Vietnam in mid-March, supported Taylor's view and 
recommended increasing the scope and tempo of the air strikes as well as their 
effectiveness. The President accepted these recommendations and, beginning with 
ROLLING THUNDER VII (March 19), air action against the North was trans- 
formed from a sporadic, halting effort into a regular and determined program. 

Shift to Interdiction. In the initial U.S. reprisal strikes and the first ROLLING 
THUNDER actions, target selection had been completely dominated by political 
and psychological considerations. With the gradual acceptance, beginning in 
March, of the need for a militarily more significant sustained bombing program, 
a refocusing of target emphasis occurred, stressing interdiction of the DRV's 
lines of communication (LOC's) — the visible manifestations of North Vietnam- 
ese aggression. The ICS had called the SecDef s attention to this infiltration tar- 
get complex as early as mid-February, and an integrated counter-infiltration 

The Air War in North Vietnam, February-June 1965 273 

attack plan against LOC targets south of the 20th parallel began to be developed 
by CINCPAC, culminating at the end of March in the submission of the JCS 
12-week bombing program. This program was built around the "LOC-cut" con- 
cept developed by the Pacific Command and was strongly endorsed by General 
Westmoreland and Ambassador Taylor. The JCS recommended that only the 
first phase (third through fifth weeks) of the 12-week program be adopted, as 
they had not reached agreement on the later phases. The JCS submission, how- 
ever, was not accepted as a program, although it strongly influenced the new 
interdiction-oriented focus of the attacks that were to follow. But neither the 
SecDef nor the President was willing to approve a multi-week program in ad- 
vance. They preferred to retain continual personal control over attack concepts 
and individual target selection and to communicate their decisions through weekly 
guidance provided by the SecDef s ROLLING THUNDER planning messages. 

April 1 Reassessment. By the end of March, in Saigon's view, the situation 
in South Vietnam appeared to have rebounded somewhat. Morale seemed to have 
been boosted, at least temporarily, by the air strikes, and Vietnamese forces had 
not recently suffered any major defeats. Washington, on the other hand, con- 
tinued to regard the situation as "bad and deteriorating," and could see no signs 
of "give" on the part of Hanoi. None of the several diplomatic initiatives that 
had been launched looked promising, and VC terrorism continued unabated, with 
the March 29 bombing of the US embassy in Saigon being by far the boldest 

Ambassador Taylor returned to Washington to participate in a Presidential 
policy review on April 1 and 2, in which a wide range of possible military and 
non-military actions in South and North Vietnam were examined. The discus- 
sions, however, did not deal principally with the air war, but focused mainly on 
the prospect of major deployments of US and Third Country combat forces to 
South Vietnam. As a result of the discussions, the far-reaching decision was 
made, at least conceptually, to permit US troops to engage in offensive ground 
operations against Asian insurgents. With respect to future air pressures policy, 
the actions adopted amounted to little more than a continuation of "roughly 
the present slowly ascending tempo of ROLLING THUNDER operations," di- 
rected mainly at the LOC targets that were then beginning to be struck. The 
Director of Central Intelligence John McCone demurred, arguing that a change 
in the US ground force role in the South also demanded comparably more force- 
ful action against the North. He felt that the ground force decision was correct 
only "if our air strikes against the North are sufficiently heavy and damaging 
really to hurt the North Vietnamese." 

A "Carrot" at Johns Hopkins. Although devoting much effort to public ex- 
planation and private persuasion, the President could not quiet his critics. Con- 
demnation of the bombing spread and the President was being pressed from many 
directions to make a major public statement welcoming negotiations. He found 
an opportunity to dramatize his peaceful intent in his renowned Johns Hopkins 
address of April 7, in which he (1) accepted the spirit of the 17-nation Appeal 
of March 15 to start negotiations "without posing any preconditions," (2) 
offered the vision of a "billion dollar American investment" in a regional Mekong 
River basin development effort in which North Vietnam might also participate, 
and (3) appointed the illustrious Eugene Black to head up the effort and to lend 
it credibility and prestige. The President's speech evoked much favorable public 
reaction throughout the world, but it failed to silence the Peace Bloc and it failed 

274 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

to move Hanoi. Premier Pham Van Dong responded to the President's speech 
by proposing his famous Four Points as the only correct way to resolve the Viet- 
nam problem and, two days later, denounced the President's proposal as simply 
a "carrot" offered to offset the "stick" of aggression and to allay public criticism 
of his Vietnam policy. But this is as far as the President was willing to go in his 
concessions to the Peace Bloc. To the clamor for a bombing pause at this time, 
the Administration responded with a resounding "No." 

Consensus at Honolulu. By mid-April, communication between Washington 
and Saigon had become badly strained as a result of Ambassador Taylor's re- 
sentment of what he regarded as Washington's excessive eagerness to introduce 
US combat forces into South Vietnam, far beyond anything that had been ap- 
proved in the April 1-2 review. To iron out differences, a conference was con- 
vened by Secretary McNamara at Honolulu on April 20. Its main concern was 
to reach specific agreement on troop deployments, but it also sought to reaffirm 
the existing scope and tempo of ROLLING THUNDER. The conferees agreed 
that sufficient pressure was provided by repetition and continuation of the strikes, 
and that it was important not to "kill the hostage" by destroying the valuable 
assets inside the "Hanoi do-not." Their strategy for victory was to "break the will 
of the DRV/VC by denying them victory." Honolulu apparently succeeded in 
restoring consensus between Washington and Saigon. It also marked the relative 
downgrading of pressures against the North, in favor of more intensive activity 
in the South. The decision, at this point, was to "plateau" the air strikes more 
or less at the prevailing level, rather than to pursue the relentless dynamic course 
ardently advocated by Ambassador Taylor and Admiral Sharp in February and 
March, or the massive destruction of the North Vietnamese target complex con- 
sistently pressed by the Joint Chiefs. 

Following Honolulu, it was decided to publicize the fact that "interdiction" was 
now the major objective of the bombing, and Secretary McNamara devoted a 
special Pentagon briefing for the press corps to that issue. 

First Bombing Pause. Pressure for some form of bombing halt had mounted 
steadily throughout April and early May and, although the President did not 
believe that such a gesture would evoke any response from Hanoi he did order 
a brief halt effective May 13, "to begin" as he expressed it "to clear a path either 
toward restoration of peace or toward increased military action, depending on 
the reaction of the Communists." The political purpose of the pause^ — to test 
Hanoi's reaction — was kept under very tight wraps, and the project was given 
the code name MAYFLOWER. A great effort was made to inform Hanoi of 
the fact of the pause and of its political intent. Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin was 
given an oral explanation by Secretary Rusk, confirmed by a tough written state- 
ment, reasserting Rusk's public position that the cessation of the DRV's attacks 
upon South Vietnam was the only road to peace and that the US would be watch- 
ful, during the pause, for any signs of a reduction in such attacks. A similar 
statement was sent to U.S. Ambassador Kohler in Moscow, for personal trans- 
mittal to the DRV Ambassador there. Kohler, however, met with refusal both 
from the DRV Ambassador to receive, and from the Soviet Foreign Office to 
transmit, the message. A written note, sent to the DRV embassy, was returned 
ostensibly unopened. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that Hanoi was more than 
adequately advised of the contents of the U.S. message through the various diplo- 
matic channels that were involved. 

Given the "rather strenuous nature" of the U.S. note to Hanoi and the brief- 
ness of the pause, it is hardly surprising that the initiative encountered no re- 

The Air War in North Vietnam, February-June 1965 275 

ceptivity from the Soviet government and evoked no positive response from 
Hanoi. The latter denounced the bombing halt as "a worn out trick of deceit and 
threat . . ." and the former, in the person of Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko 
in a conversation with Rusk in Vienna, branded the U.S. note to Hanoi as "in- 

Having thus been unmistakably rebuffed, the President ordered the resump- 
tion of the bombing raids effective May 18. The entire pause was handled with 
a minimum of public information, and no announcement was made of the sus- 
pension or of the resumption. But prime ministers or chiefs of state of a half 
dozen key friendly governments were briefed fully after the event. A still some- 
what ambiguous diplomatic move was made by Hanoi in Paris on May 18, a 
few hours after the bombing had been resumed, in which Mai Van Bo, the DRV 
economic delegate there seemed to imply a significant softening of Hanoi's posi- 
tion on the Four Points as "prior conditions." But subsequent attempts at clarifi- 
cation left that issue as ambiguous as it had been before. 

End of Summary and Analysis 


6 Jan 1965 William Bundy Memorandum for Rusk 

Taking note of the continued political deterioration in SVN, 
Bundy concludes that, even though it will get worse, the US 
should probably proceed with Phase II of the December pressures 
plan, the escalating air strikes against the North. 

8 Jan 1965 2,000 Korean troops arrive in SVN 

South Korea sends 2,000 military advisors to SVN, the first such 
non-US support. 

27 Jan 1965 Huong Government ousted 

General Khanh ousts the civilian government headed by Huong . , ^ , ^ 
and assumes powers of government himself. ^ 

McNaughton Memorandum for Secretary of Defense 
McNaughton is as pessimistic as William Bundy about prospects 
in the South. He feels the US should evacuate dependents and 
respond promptly at the next reprisal opportunity. McNamara's 
pencilled notes reveal more optimism about the results of air 
strikes than McNaughton. 

28 Jan 1965 JCS message 4244 to CINCPAC 

A resumption of the DESOTO Patrols on or about 3 February is 

29 Jan 1965 JCSM-70-65 

The JCS urge again that a strong reprisal action be taken im- 
mediately after the next DRV/VC provocation. In particular, they 
propose targets and readiness to strike should the forthcoming re- 
sumption of the DESOTO Patrols be challenged. 

4 Feb 1965 CJCS message 4612 to CINCPAC 

In view of Kosygin's impending visit to Hanoi, authority for the 
DESOTO Patrol is cancelled. 

276 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

SNIE 53-65 "Short Term Prospects in South Vietnam" 
The intelligence community does not see the conditions of po- 
litical instability in SVN improving in the months ahead. The 
political base for counterinsurgency will remain weak. 

6 Feb 1 965 Kosygin arrives in Hanoi 

Soviet Premier Kosygin arrives in Hanoi for a state visit that will 
deepen Soviet commitment to the DRV, and expand Soviet eco- 
nomic and military assistance. 

7 Feb 1965 VC attack US base at Pleiku 

Well-coordinated VC attacks hit the US advisors' barracks at 
Pleiku and the helicopter base at Camp Holloway. 

President decides to retaliate 

The NSC is convened in the evening (6 Feb. Washington time) 
and with the recommendation of McGeorge Bundy, Ambassador 
Taylor and General Westmoreland from Saigon, decides on a 
reprisal strike against the North in spite of Kosygin's presence in 

McGeorge Bundy Memorandum to the President: "The Situation 
in South Vietnam" 

Completing a fact-gathering trip to SVN on the very day of the 
Pleiku attack, Bundy acknowledges the bad state of the GVN both 
politically and militarily, but nevertheless recommends that the 
US adopt a policy of "sustained reprisal" against the North and 
that we evacuate US dependents from Saigon. The reprisal policy 
should begin from specific VC attacks but gradually escalate into 
sustained attacks as a form of pressure on the DRV to end its 
support of the VC and/or come to terms with the US. 


49 US Navy jets conduct the first FLAMING DART reprisal 
attack on the Dong Hoi army barracks; a scheduled VNAF at- 
tack is cancelled because of bad weather. 

B-52s sent to area 

Approval is given for the dispatch of 30 B-52s to Guam and 30 
KC-135s to Okinawa for contingency use in Vietnam. 

ROLLING THUNDER approved by President; DEPTEL to Sai- 
gon 1718 

The President decides to inaugurate ROLLING THUNDER sus- 
tained bombing of the North under strict limitations with pro- 
grams approved on a week-by-week basis. 

17 Feb 1965 CINCPAC message 170217 February to JCS 

Admiral Sharp urges that the strikes be conceived as "pressures" 
not "reprisals" and that any premature discussions or negotiations 
with the DRV be avoided. We must convince them that the cost 
of their aggression is prohibitive. 

UK reports Soviet interest in Geneva Talks 

The UK Ambassador, Lord Harlech, informs Rusk that the 
Soviets have approached the UK about reactivating the 1954 
Geneva Conference in the current Vietnam crisis. After an initial 
US interest, the Soviets back off and the matter dies. 

8 Feb 1965 

13 Feb 1965 


The Air War in North Vietnam, February-June 1965 277 

18 Feb 1965 President schedules ROLLING THUNDER 

President Johnson sets February 20 as the date for the beginning 
of ROLLING THUNDER and informs US Ambassadors in Asia. 
SNIE 10-3/1-65 

The intelligence community gives its view that sustained attacks 
on the DRV would probably cause it to seejkjLXfespite-Xather than 
to intensify the struggle in the South. 

19 Feb 1965 Thao "semi-coup" 

Colonel Thao, a longtime conspirator, launches a "semi-coup" 
against Khanh, designed to remove him but not the Armed Forces 
Council. He is quickly defeated but the AFC decides to use the 
incident to remove Khanh itself. The events drag on for several 

Embassy Saigon message 2665 

Taylor recommends urgently that the ROLLING THUNDER 
strike be cancelled until the political situation in Saigon has clari- 
fied. The President agrees. 


In a memo to McNamara, Wheeler proposes a systematic attack 
on the DRV rail system as the most vulnerable link in the trans- 
portation system. Military as opposed to psychological value of 
targets is already beginning to enter discussions. 

21 Feb 1965 Khanh resigns 

Unable to rally support in the Armed Forces Council, Khanh 

24 Feb 1965 U.S. reassures Peking 

In a meeting in Warsaw the Chinese are informed that while the 
U.S. will continue to take those actions required to defend itself 
and South Vietnam, it has no aggressive intentions toward the 

27 Feb 1965 i State Dept. issues "White Paper" on DRV aggression 

! The State Department issues a "White Paper" detailing its charges 
of aggression against North Vietnam. 

28 Feb 1965 k ROLLING THUNDER announced 

U.S. and GVN make simultaneous announcement of decision to 
open a continuous limited air campaign against the North in 
Lorder to bring about a negotiated settlement on favorable terms. 

2 Mar 1965 First ROLLING THUNDER strike 

104 USAF planes attack Xom Bang ammo depot and 19 VNAF 
aircraft hit the Quang Khe Naval Base in the first attacks of 

President decides to send CSA, H.K. Johnson, to Vietnam 
The President decides to send Army Chief of Staft', Gen, H. K. 
Johnson, to Saigon to explore with Taylor and Westmoreland what 
additional efforts can be made to improve the situation in the 
South, complementarily to the strikes against the North. 

3 Mar 1965 Tito letter to Johnson 

Yugoslav President Tito, in a letter to Johnson, urges immediate 
negotiation on Vietnam without conditions on either side. 

278 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/ Vol. Ill 

5-12 Mar Gen. Johnson trip to Vietnam 

1965 Army Chief of Staff, Gen. H. K. Johnson, tours Vietnam on a 

mission for the President. 

6 Mar 1965 Marines sent to Da Nang 

Two Marine Battalion Landing Teams are ordered to Da Nang 
by the President to take up base security functions in the Da 
Nang perimeter. 

8 Mar 1965 Marines land at Da Nang 

The two Marine battahons land at Da Nang and set up defensive 

Embassy Saigon msgs. 2888, and 2889 

Taylor expresses sharp annoyance at what seems to him an un- 
necessarily timid and ambivalent U.S. stance on air strikes. The 
long delay between strikes, the marginal weight of the attacks, and 
the great ado about diplomatic feelers were weakening our signal 
to the North. He calls for a more dynamic schedule of strikes, a 
multiple week program relentlessly marching North to break 
Hanoi's will. 

U Thant proposes big power conference 

U Thant proposes a conference of the big powers with North and 
South Vietnam to start preliminary negotiations. 

9 Mar 1965 U.S. rejects Thant proposal 

The U.S. rejects Thant's proposal until the DRV stops its ag- 

Some bombing restrictions lifted 
i The President lifts the restriction on the use of napalm in strikes 
/Ion the North, and eliminates the requirement for Vietnamese co- 
Ipilots in FARMGATE missions. 

1 Mar 1 965 CJCS memo to SecDef CM-469-65 

In a memo to SecDef with preliminary reports on U.S. aircraft 
losses in hostile action. Wheeler requests better ordnance, more 
recce, and greater field command flexibility in alternate target 
selection for weather problems. 

12 Mar 1965 State msg. 1975 to Saigon 

ROLLING THUNDER VI is authorized for the next day; it is 
subsequently delayed until the 14th because of weather. 

President replies to Tito 

In his reply to Tito the President indicates the only bar to peace 
is DRV aggression which must stop before talks can begin. 

13 Mar 1965 Embassy Saigon msg. 2949 

Taylor complains about the postponement of RT VI, stating that 
too much attention is being paid to the specific target, any target 
will do since the important thing is to keep up the momentum of 
the attacks. 

13-18 Mar Conference of non-aligned nations in Belgrade 
1965 Tito calls a meeting of 15 non-aligned nations in Belgrade. The 

declaration calls for negotiations and blames "foreign interven- 
tion" for the aggravation of the situation. 

The Air War in North Vietnam, February-June 1965 279 


The delayed RT VI is carried out and is the heaviest attack thus 
far with over 100 U.S. aircraft and 24 VNAF planes hitting two 

Gen. Johnson submits his report to SecDef 

Gen. Johnson submits a 21 -recommendation report including a 
request that the scope and tempo of strikes against the North 
be increased and that many of the restrictions on the strikes be 
lifted. .<pL''JCD ^ 

15 Mar 1965 President approves most of Johnson report 

Having reviewed the Johnson report, the President approves most 
of his recommendations including those for expanding and regu- 
larizing the campaign against the North. The new guidelines apply 
to RT VII on 19 Mar. 


The first week's program of sustained bombing under the name 

20 Mar 1 965 STEEL TIGER Begins 

Acting on a CINCPAC recommendation the Administration had 
approved the separation of the anti-infiltration bombing in the 
Laotian panhandle from the BARREL ROLL strikes in support 
of Laotian forces. The former are now called STEEL TIGER. 

21 Mar 1965 CINCPAC msg. to JCS 210525 Mar. 

In a long cable, CINCPAC proposes a program for cutting, in 
depth, the DRV logistical network, especially below the 20th 
parallel. The plan calls for initial intensive strikes to cut the 
system and then regular armed recce to eliminate any residual 
capacity, or repair efforts. 

24 Mar 1965 McNaughton memo "Plan of Action for South Vietnam" 

McNaughton concludes that the situation in SVN probably can- 
not be improved without extreme measures against the DRV and/ 
or the intervention of US ground forces. He gives a thorough 
treatment to the alternatives and risks with particular attention 
to the strong air campaign on the North. He takes note of the 
various escalation points and tries to assess the risks at each level. 
He evaluates the introduction of US troops and a negotiations al- 
ternative in the same manner. 

27 Mar 1965 JCSM-221-65 

The JCS formally propose to SecDef a plan already discussed 
with him for an escalating 12-week air campaign against the 
North with a primarily military-physical destruction orientation. 
Interdiction is the objective rather than will-breaking. 

29 Mar 1965 VC bomb US Embassy 

In a daring bomb attack on the US Embassy, the VC kill many 
Americans and Vietnamese and cause extensive damage. Taylor 
leaves almost simultaneously for talks in Washington. 

31 Mar 1965 CINCPAC msg. to JCS 310407 Mar. 

CINCPAC recommends a spectacular attack against the North 

14-15 Mar 

14 Mar 1965 

280 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

2 Apr 1965' 

5 Apr 1965 

6 Apr 1965 

7 Apr 1965 

to retaliate for the bombing of the Embassy. The President rejects 
the idea. 

NSC meeting with Taylor 

The President meets with Taylor and the NSC to begin a major 
policy review. 
McGeorge Bundy memo 

Bundy recommends little more than a continuation of the on- 
going modest RT prograiTnj__gradually hitting the LOC choke 
points. He does, however^recommenci'>emoving the restriction on 
the Marines to static defense. "Focus is on winning in SVN. 
NSC meeting 

The White House policy review continued with another meeting 
of the principals. 
Rostow memo to SecState 

In a memo to Rusk, Walt Rostow proposes knocking out the DRV 
electric power grid as a means of bringing her whole urban in- 
dustrial sector to a halt. 
NSC meeting 

At the NSC meeting the President approves the Bundy recom- 
mendations including the proposal to allow US troopTnVietnam 
a combat role. 

McCone dissents from Presidential decision 

CIA director McCone circulates a memo dissenting from the 
Presidential decision to have US troops take part in active combat. 
He feels that such action is not justified and wise unless the air 
attacks on the North are increased sufficiently to really be phys- 
ically damaging to the DRV and to put real pressure on her. 
Canadian Prime Minister suggests pause 

Canadian Prime Minister Lester v^E^rson in a speech in Phila- 
delphia suggests that the US call a halt to the bombing in the 
interests of getting negotiations started. 

The ICS report confirmation of the construction of a SAM missile 
site near Hanoi and request authority to strike it before it be- 
comes operational. Their request is not acted on at the time. 


The Presidential decisions of April 2 are promulgated using the 
verbatim language of the Bundy memo. 
President's Johns Hopkins Speech 

In a major speech at Johns Hopkins University, the President 
outlines his hope for a peaceful, negotiated settlement in Vietnam. 
He names Eugene Black as the US negotiator and offers to assist 
both North and South Vietnam on a regional basis to the tune of 
$1 billion in the post-war reconstruction and economic develop- 
ment of SEA. 

Pham Van Dong's "Four Points" 

Rejecting the President's initiative, the DRV Foreign Minister, 
Pham Van Dong announces his famous "Four Points" for the 
settlement of the war. Each side sees jeti^iemjent i^^^^ 
of^the_other. Peking denounces the President's speech also. 

The Air War in North Vietnam, February— June 1965 281 

17 Apr 1 965 Presidential press conference 

In a press conference the President acknowledges the failure of 
his most recent peace overtures. 

Rusk press conference 

Secretary Rusk rejects suggestions from Canada and others to 
suspend the bombing in order to get peace talks started. He re- 
iterates the President's view that Hanoi does not want peace. 

18 Apr 1965 Taylor opposes the ground build-up 

Having been bombarded with cables from Washington about a 
build-up in ground forces to carry out NSAM 328, Taylor reacts 
opposing the idea in a cable to McGeorge Bundy. 

19 Apr 1965 Hanoi rejects 1 7-nation appeal 

Hanoi rejects the proposal of the 17 non-aligned nations for a 
peace conference without pre-conditions by either side. 

20 Apr 1965 Honolulu Conference 

Secretary McNamara meets with Taylor, Westmoreland, Sharp, 
Wm. Bundy, and McNaughton in Honolulu to review the imple- 
mentation and interpretation of NSAM 328. A_ plateau airfi 
strikes, more effort in the South, and the specifics of force de-jj 
ployments are agreed to. 

21 Apr 1965 SecDef memo to the President 

Secretary McNamara reports the results of the Honolulu Con- 
ference to the President and indicates that harmony has been, 
restored among the views of the various advisors. 

22 Apr 1965 Intelligence assessment TS #185843-c ^ p 

The intelligence community indicates that withoiw either a massive J) t 
increase in the air campaign or the introduction of US combat 
troops, the DRV would stick to its goal o^ military victory. 

23 Apr 1965 Rusk Speech ^.^^^^X^-^ ■ 

In a speech before the American Society of International Law, 
Rusk makes first public mention of interdiction and punishment as 
the purposes of the US bombing rather than breaking Hanoi's 

24 Apr 1965 U Thant calls for pause 

U Thant asks the US to suspend the bombing for three months in 
an effort to get negotiations. The proposal is rejected in Washing- 

25 Apr 1965 McGeorge Bundy memo 

In an effort to clarify internal government thinking about negotia- 
tions, Bundy outlines his view of US goals. His exposition is a 
maximum US position whose acceptance would amount to sur- 
render by the other side. 

26 Apr 1965 McNamara press briefing 

In a special briefing for the press complete with maps and charts, 
McNamara goes into considerable depth in explaining the inter- 
diction purposes of the US strikes against the North. 

28 Apr 1965 McCone resigns and submits last memo 

McCone who is leaving his post as CIA Director (to be replaced 

282 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers/Vol. Ill 

I by Admiral Raborn) submits a last memo to the President op- 
posing the build-up of ground forces in the absence of a greatly 
I intensified campaign against the North. 

4 May 1965 President denies DRV willingness to negotiate 

In a speech at the White House, the President indicates that the 
DRV has turned back all peace initiatives, either from the US or 
from neutral parties. 

Embassy Saigon msg. 3632 

Taylor confirms the President's view about the DRV by noting 
that in Hanoi's estimates they are still expecting to achieve a 
clear-cut victory and see no reason to negotiate. 

6 May 1965 CIA Director Raborn assessment 

Commenting, at the President's request, on McCone's parting 
memo on Vietnam, Raborn agrees with the assessment that the 
bombing had thus far not hurt the North and that much more 
would be needed to force them to the negotiating table. He sug- 
gests a pause to test DRV intentions and gain support of world 
opinion before beginning the intensive air campaign that he be- 
lieves will be required. 


The Chairman of the JCS recommends to the Secretary that the 
SAM sites already identified be attacked. 

10 May 1965 State Department msg. 2553 

The President informs Taylor of his intention to call a temporary 
halt to the bombing and asks Taylor to get PM Quat's concur- 
rence. The purpose of the pause is to gain flexibility either to 
negotiate if the DRV shows interest, or to intensify the air strikes 
if they do not. He does not intend to announce the pause but 
rather to communicate it privately to Moscow and Hanoi and 
await a reply. 

11 May 1965 Embassy Saigon msg. 3731 

Taylor reports Quat's agreement but preference not to have the 
pause linked to Buddha's birthday. 

State Department msg. 2557 

State confirms the decision, agrees to avoid reference to the Bud- 
dhist holiday, and indicates that the pause will begin on May 13 
and last for 5-7 days. 

Department of State msg. 3101 

Kohler in Moscow is instructed to contact the DRV Ambassador 
urgently and convey a message announcing the pause. Simul- 
taneously, Rusk was transmitting the message to the Soviet Am- 
bassador in Washington. 

12 May 1965 Embassy Moscow msg. 3391 

In Moscow, the DRV Ambassador refuses to see Kohler or re- 
ceive the message. A subsequent attempt to transmit the message 
through the Soviet Foreign Office also fails when the Soviets de- 
cline their assistance. 

13 May 1965 Presidential speech 

The President avoids reference to the pause in a major public 

The Air War in North Vietnam, February-June 1965 283 

speech, but does call on Hanoi to consider a "political solution" 
of the war. 

14 May 1965 Embassy Moscow msg. 3425 
Kohler suggests that the language of the message be softened be- 
fore it is transmitted to Hanoi via the British Consul in the DRV 

British Consul— Hanoi transmits the pause msg. 
Having rejected Kohler's suggestion, State has the British Consul 
in Hanoi transmit the message. The DRV refuses to accept it. 

MACV msg. 16006 

WestmoreLandv^.%dihJTa^ recommends the use 

of B-52s for patterned saturation"Hombing of VC headquarters and 
other area targets in South Vietnam. 

15 May 1965 Rusk-Gromyko meet in Vienna 

In a meeting between the two men in Vienna, Gromyko informs 
Rusk that the Soviet Union will give firm and full support to the 
DRV as a "fraternal socialist state." 

16 May 1965 Embassy Saigon msg. 3781 

Taylor suggests that the DRV's cold response to our initiative 
warrants a resumption of the bombing. The level should be linked 
directly to the intensity of VC activity in the South during the 

President decides to resume bombing 

The President decides that Hanoi's response can be regarded as 
negative and orders the bombing to resume on May 18. 

17 May 1965 Allies informed of impending resumption 

US Asian and European allies are forewarned of the impending 
resumption of bombing. In a separate msg. the President au- 
thorizes the radar recce by B-52s of potential SEA targets. 

18 May 1965 Bombing resumes 

After five days of "pause" the bombing resumes in the North. 
Hanoi denounces the pause 

On the evening of the resumption, the DRV Foreign Ministry 
issues a statement describing the pause as a "deceitful maneuver" 
to pave the way for further US acts of war. 
Hanoi's Paris demarche 

Somewhat belatedly the DRV representative in Paris, Mai Van 
Bo discusses the "four points" with the Quai somewhat softening 
their interpretation and indicating that they are not necessarily 
preliminary conditions to negotiations. 

20 May 1965 Rostow memo ''Victory and Defeat in Guerilla Wars" 

In a memo for the Secretary of State Rostow argues that^a_clear- 
cut US victory in SVN is possible. It requires mainly more pressure 
on the North and effective conduct of the battle in the South. 

21 May 1965 Peking denounces the pause 

Declaring its support for the DRV, Peking denounces the Pres- 
ident's bombing pause as a fraud. 
2 J un 1965 SN IE 10-6-65 

The intelligence community gives a pessimistic analysis of the 

284 Gravel Edition /The Pentagon Papers/VoL III 

likelihood that Hanoi will seek a respite from the bombing through 

ICC Commissioner Seaborn sees Pham Van Dong 
In a meeting in Hanoi with DRV Foreign Minister Pham Van 
Dong, ICC Commissioner Seaborn (Canada) confirms Hanoi's 
rejection of current US peace initiatives. 

SVN Premier Quat resigns 

SVN Premier Quat hands his resignation to the Armed Forces 

SecDef memo to JCS 

McNamara disapproves the JCS recommendation for air strikes 
against the SAM sites and IL 28s at DRV air bases since these 
might directly challenge the Soviet Union. 

Ky assumes power 

Brig. Gen. Nguyen Cao Ky assumes power and decrees new meas- 
ures to strengthen GVN prosecution of the war. 


ROLLING THUNDER 1 was scheduled on 20 February 1965 as a one-day 
reprisal strike by U.S. and VNAF forces, against Quang Khe Naval Base and 
Vu Con Barracks. Two barracks and an airfield were authorized as weather 
alternates. ROLLING THUNDER 1 was cancelled because of a coup in Saigon 
and diplomatic moves between London and Moscow. ROLLING THUNDER 
2, 3, and 4 were planned as reprisal actions, but subsequently cancelled because 
of continued political instability in Saigon, during which VNAF forces were on 
"coup alert." Joint participation with VNAF was desired for political reasons. 

The first actual ROLLING THUNDER strike was ROLLING THUNDER 
5, a one-day, no recycle strike on 2 March 1965. Targets were one ammo depot 
and one naval base as primary U.S. and VNAF targets. Four barracks were 
authorized as weather alternates. VNAF participation was mandatory. The 
approved effort for the week was substantially below the level recommended by 
the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

ROLLING THUNDER 6 (14-15 March) was a far more forceful one-day 
fixed-target program representing a week's weight of attack, l^paim was au- 
thorized for the first time, but aircraft recycle was prohibited. 

ROLLING THUNDER 7 (19-25 March) relaxed the mandatory one-day 
strike execution to a week's period, with precise timing being left to field com- 
manders. It included five primary targets with weather alternates. The require- 
ment for concurrent timing of U.S. and VNAF strikes was removed. One U.S. 
and two VNAF armed recce missions were authorized during the seven-day 
period. Specified route segments were selected in southern North Vietnam. 
Authority was given to strike three fixed radar sites located one each route. 
The strikes were no longer to be specifically related to VC atrocities and publicity 
on them was to be progressively reduced. 

ROLLING THUNDER 8 (26 March-1 April) included nine radar sites for 

* Based on information in JCS compilations and ROLLING THUNDER execute 

3 J un 1965 

12 J un 1965 
15 Jun 1965 

The Air War in North Vietnam, February-June 1965 285 

U.S. strike, and a barracks for VNAF. The radar targets reflected primarily 
policy-level interest in additional purely military targets in southern NVN. Three 
armed recce missions were again authorized, against specified route segments 
with U.S. armed recce conducted against NVN patrol craft, along the coast from 
Tiger Island north to 20° and authority granted to restrike operational radar 
sites. VNAF armed recce was conducted along Route 12 from Ha Tinh to two 
miles east of Mu Gia Pass. 

ROLLING THUNDER 9 (2-8 April) inaugurated a planned LOG interdic- 
tion campaign against NVN south of latitude 20°. The Dong Phuong (ICS 
target No. 18.8) and Thanh Hoa bridges (ICS target No, 14) were the northern- 
most fixed-target strikes in this campaign to be followed by additional armed 
reconnaissance strikes to sustain the interdiction. ROLLING THUNDER 9 
(2-8 April) through ROLLING THUNDER 12 (23-29 April) completed the 
fixed-target strikes against 26 bridges and seven ferries. 

a. ROLLING THUNDER 9 permitted three armed recce missions on speci- 
fied route segments. Sorties were increased to not more than 24 armed recce 
strike sorties per 24-hour period in ROLLING THUNDER 10 through ROLL- 
ING THUNDER 12. This effort was still far short of the level considered by 
the ICS to be "required for significant effectiveness." 

b. Prior to ROLLING THUNDER 10, armed recce targets were limited to 
locomotives, rolling stock, vehicles, and hostile NVN craft. For ROLLING 
THUNDER 10 through ROLLING THUNDER 12 the rules were changed to 
provide day and night armed recce missions to obtain a high level of damage to 
military movement facilities, ferries, radar sites, secondary bridges, and railroad 
rolling stock. It also included interdiction of the LOG by cratering, restriking 
and seeding choke-points as necessary. 

c. From the beginning, armed recce geographical coverage was limited to 
specified segments of designated routes. By ROLLING THUNDER 9 it had 
increased to one-time coverage of Routes 1 (DMZ to 19-58-36N), 7, 8, 15, 101, 
and lateral roads between these routes. 

d. The dropping of unexpended ordnance on Tiger Island was authorized in 
this period. Prior to this time, ordnance was jettisoned in the sea. 

ROLLING THUNDER 13 (30 April-May 1965) through ROLLING THUN- 
DER 18 (11-17 June) continued U.S. and VNAF strikes against 52 fixed mili- 
tary targets (five restrikes) as follows: six ammo depots, five supply depots, 21 
barracks, two airfields, two POL storages, two radio facilities, seven bridges, 
two naval bases, one railroad yard, two thermal power plants, one port facility, 
and one ferry. It was argued by the ICS that, as some barracks and depots had 
been vacated, political insistence on hitting only military targets south of latitude 
20° was "constraining the program substantially short of optimum military 

a. During this six-week period armed recce sorties were expanded to a maxi- 
mum allowable rate of 40 per day and a maximum of 200 per week (60 
additional armed recce sorties were authorized for ROLLING THUNDER 17). 
Although this period saw a significant increase in armed recce, the new level was 
well below existing capabilities and, so the ICS argued, "the increase was au- 
thorized too late to achieve tactical surprise." 

b. With ROLLING THUNDER 13 armed recce authorizations changed from 
stated routes, etc., to more broadly defined geographical areas, in this case the 
area south of 20°. 

c. Air strikes against fixed targets and armed recce were suspended over NVN 
during the five-day and twenty-hour bombing pause of 13-17 May. 

286 Gravel Edition/The Pentagon Papers /Vol. Ill 

d. Authority was requested to strike the first SAM site during the ROLLING 
THUNDER 15 period (immediately following the bombing pause) but it was 

e. Armed recce targets were expanded during this six-week period to include 
railroad rolling stock, trucks, ferries, lighters, barges, radar sites, secondary 
bridges, road repair equipment, NVN naval craft, bivouac and maintenance 
areas. Emphasis was placed on armed recce of routes emanating from Vinh in 
order to restrict traffic in and out of this important LOG hub. ROLLING THUN- 
DER 18 added the provision that authorized day armed route recce sorties could 
include selected missions to conduct small precise atta